A free, once-weekly round-up of all the best Nintendo Switch links, articles and videos from the past seven days.
All posts by Lee Hobbs
published Tuesday, Apr 06th

Pokemon Heart Gold & Soul Silver Review

It’s hard to believe it’s been 15 years since Nintendo unleashed Pocket Monsters upon an unsuspecting public. The franchise’s phenomenal success surprised everyone, including Nintendo themselves, but there were still some critics that saw it as just another childish fad. While interest may have cooled a bit in the west, the franchise remains as popular as ever in Japan, pulling in sales figures in the millions. The series’ high point is undoubtedly the first set of sequels, released on the Game Boy Color in 2000/2001. There were more new features in these than the rest of the later sequels put together. Pokemon breeding, dual battles, day/night cycles and extensive ‘post-credits’ quests were all features established in the second generation, and have been present in every iteration since.

Nintendo has now refitted the second set of Pokemon titles for release on the DS. Though while they may seem like a cynical cash-in, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

When the first set of games were re-released on the Game Boy Advance as Fire Red and Leaf Green, Nintendo gave them a bit of a lick of paint and added a few extra features. Heart Gold and Soul Silver have themselves been spruced up a bit graphically, but Nintendo have included far more extra content than they did in FR & LG. For starters, some of the features from the later two generations have been slotted into HG & SS, like the Battle Frontier and Pal Park. But perhaps the biggest and most significant additions are the all-new Pokeathlon (a series of ‘Pokemon Olympic’ events, controlled via the stylus), and the surprisingly fun little freebie, the Pokewalker.

It’s essentially just a simple pedometer, but its application in the world of Pokemon adds a new dimension to the gameplay. Pokemon can be transferred to the Pokewalker and then carried around with you as you go about your daily business. Every step in the real world equates to one experience point for your chosen partner; for every twenty you’ll build up watts, a special in-game currency. Watts can then be used to unlock new locations to walk in, or for two simple mini-games included on the Pokewalker, which allow you to find items or Pokemon along the way. Presumably the device is meant to encourage fat ten-year olds to get out of the house and get some exercise, but it’s still an addictive little distraction nonetheless.

So the new features fit in well, but what about the original stuff? Does it remain as addictive as our sepia-toned memories might suggest? Well, this could be down to personal opinion but the simple answer is this is Pokemon as it’s always been: complex, engaging and full of charm. The nostalgia factor is definitely there for those who have travelled the length and breadth of the Johto world already, and newcomers can look forward to the biggest and best Pokemon adventure yet. HG & SS represent Pokemon in its purest form, before the world was filled with hundreds of insignificant monsters, dozens of ‘legendaries’ and pointless side games (like the beauty pageants).

There are a few minor flaws lingering in the series that Nintendo seem averse to correcting. Pokemon are still represented by simple sprite art, which, as charming as it might be, could really do with being a bit more dynamic. The over-world graphics, while functional, are far from pushing the DS hardware much. Finally, the game structure is beginning to feel a little tired now and could do with a shake up. Nintendo will certainly need to look into rebooting some aspects of the series in any future editions if they want to hold gamers’ interest.

These issues can’t take the shine off what is an epic and enthralling return to the series’ glory days. The core gameplay is still as addictive as it ever was, with hundreds of golden gaming hours to be had, marking this as yet another essential DS title. Perhaps the next editions will take the series in a new direction, but for now these titles stand as a fond celebration of the world of Pokemon at its best.

The Legend Of Zelda: Spirit Tracks by
published Thursday, Mar 18th

Legend Of Zelda: Spirit Tracks Review

Here we are, nearly 25 years after the first Legend of Zelda was released, and the series still stands as one of the best-loved and consistently brilliant franchises around. The second DS Zelda title (and fifteenth overall), Spirit Tracks, continues the tradition of colourful worlds, engaging characters and innovative puzzles the series has become known for.

It’s rare for any game in the series to directly refer to another one, but Spirit Tracks is related to the first DS adventure Phantom Hourglass, which was itself a sequel of sorts to the GameCube title, Wind Waker. Set about 100 years after the events of Phantom Hourglass, Spirit Tracks takes place in the new Kingdom of Hyrule (founded by Link and Tetra at the end of PH), where the present-day Link is about to become a train engineer. The tracks the trains run on were actually laid across the land by spirits to shackle a nasty (is there any other kind?) Demon King, hell-bent on destroying the world. But these ‘spirit tracks’ are slowly disappearing, thanks to an impish Chancellor and his metal-armed ninja henchman, who want to resurrect the Demon King to play the lead role in their new Broadway musical or something to that effect. Once again it’s up to Link to put a stop to their nefarious deeds, leading to his quest to fetch, you-guessed it, several ancient objects scattered across the land which have the power to repel all evil.

The story may be conventional Zelda-fare, but this game does try mixing some new ideas into the pot. Firstly, near the beginning of the game, Princess Zelda shuffles off her mortal coil and spends the rest of the game as ghost. She can still come in handy though – in certain dungeons she can possess the body of spirit guardians (un-dead knights similar to those found in Phantom Hourglass’ central dungeon) and can then be controlled via the stylus. Some of the best puzzles in the game revolve around switching between Link and Zelda and using their separate abilities (Link’s weaponry, Zelda’s indestructible armour) to progress. It’s a great new feature that’s nicely implemented.

Secondly, Link gets a brand-new mode of transport to travel around Hyrule – his very own train. When it was first introduced, Link’s new choo-choo was met with derision from a small, yet vocal, group of Zelda fans who argued it was too contemporary to be a part of the Zelda universe. As it happens, the train itself fits into Hyrule’s colourful world almost as well as the boats from Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass, and journeys across the expansive overworld are pretty damn relaxing to begin with. But it’s also, by its very nature, a very linear mode of transport. Given the amount of back-tracking contained in every Zelda game the scenery, beautiful though it is, it can quickly become tiresome. Then there are the demon trains that randomly patrol the tracks, which can make some journeys incredibly long-winded as the game forces you to take an extra long route to avoid them. Warp spots are available but still, this remains one of the game’s weaker elements.

Elsewhere, the gameplay is just as addictive as ever with some excellent puzzles to solve in the game’s many dungeons. Like Phantom Hourglass before it, Spirit Tracks also puts the DS features to good use. Notes can be made on the map via the touch screen and the DS mic controls some of Link’s new items – the brilliant whirlwind thingamyjig and the underused spirit pipes (the best new item since the Ocarina). Several of Phantom Hourglass’ faults have been rectified too – Spirit Tracks is definitely longer (possibly because of the train rides) and the central dungeon, hated by many in PH, has been rejigged to reduce unnecessary back-tracking.

Spirit Tracks presentation is also a high point. Using the same engine as Phantom Hourglass, the characters and worlds are absolutely gorgeous, among the best 3D graphics on the DS in fact, and the music (especially the overworld track) is some of the best of the series.

Whether this edges past Phantom Hourglass will come down to personal opinion, as there’s very little to separate the two in terms of length, difficulty and fun. It’s certainly a worthy successor and one of the best games on DS despite some flaws in its design.

published Sunday, Mar 14th

Why The Wii Will Beat Project Natal And PlayStation Move

Waggle Battle

Waggle Battle

So, motion controllers? Are they really the future of gaming, or just a big fad that only kids and grandparents enjoy? Without being able to travel twenty years into the future to pass judgement, you can only hazard a guess that neither of those two statements prove to be implicitly true. Motion-sensing controllers may well be integrated into all future gaming systems in the same way analogue control, force-feedback and wireless handsets have been in today’s generation.

Nintendo’s bold attempt at widening the market with its fantabulous motion-sensing Wii remote has so far paid off and, inevitably, the competition are not far behind. At the same time however, traditional controllers aren’t going to be completely eradicated, at least not if gaming companies want to avoid the largest flaming campaign since internet records began.

So if they are here to stay, which of the three efforts will be seen to be the most successful in years to come? Hopefully you’ve already read our previous articles on Natal and Move – now it’s the turn of the Wii and Motion Plus!

The biggest reason why Nintendo will stay ahead of the game is that it’s already been there, done that, worn the T-Shirt and banked millions of dollars in the process. Being the first to a new market is incredibly important, and if things go your way, it can make your market share unassailable. Nintendo had already poured millions into R&D for the DS and Wii before Sony and Microsoft started to follow suit. They even had time to refine the motion-sensing technology, in the form of motion-plus, before any rival system was available. For Microsoft and Sony to get to the same point, tech-wise, they must have spent huge amounts of dollars – money that would surely have been siphoned from ‘core’ development. In the end, the R&D bill would have been far more than Nintendo’s outlay due in part to the need to ‘beat’ Nintendo’s technology but also, crucially, due to the extra costs hi-definition development brings with it.

This is another key point, at least from a developer’s point of view; on the Wii, costs for an experimental title aren’t far off those for a PS2-gen title.

It was pretty clear, especially in the first year of the Wii’s life, that publishers weren’t keen on taking a risk and pouring large amounts of money into developing for an unproven platform, judging by the poor-looking works from Ubisoft, EA etc. Those that did take a chance and tried to do something interesting with the new technology got their fingers burnt. Just look at sales of Zack & Wiki, Pro Evo and Mad World for a hint at the general apathy such experimental titles faced at retail. Now imagine a publisher’s reaction to having to take the same risk but with the additional costs of hi-definition presentation thrown in. The flip-side of this argument is that nicer graphics could equal bigger sales, and this is very much a great unknown factor. It’s very possible that the core demographic would pay more attention to a hi-def natal bowling game, or a key franchise updated with built in-motion controller support (such as the upcoming Resident Evil 5 for PS3). The trouble is, unknown factors don’t sit well with those having to front the cash.

Costs associated with early Wii development were offset to an extent by developing multiplatform versions alongside a Wii game. The same can be said for 360 and PS3 development. There is no such luxury with Natal and Move; it’s pretty much all or nothing. You can’t even co-develop between the platforms, as the technologies the two are using aren’t easily compatible (Natal has no associated physical controller for example). So far, there hasn’t been a torrent of games announced from developers, and you shouldn’t expect many to be revealed until either of the new peripherals start racking up the sorts of numbers Wii/Motion-Plus/Wii Fit has accumulated, making exclusive titles a viable option.

Speaking of numbers, Nintendo has this aspect tied up already. For every gamer obsessed with having the coolest, most powerful machine, or the one with the technical intelligence, there are millions of regular people who don’t have a clue what a polygon is, or why having lots of them is so important. All they want to do is have a little fun. It’s this crowd that Nintendo has already won over with Wii and it’s this mass popularity which will ultimately make them the winner of the motion-sensor war. No matter how good Natal or Move are from a technical standpoint, to the untrained eye they are just another rip-off of the Wii.

They are both, undoubtedly, very impressive pieces of kit, but can you see all those casual gamers who have long since put the Wii on the shelf (if some cynics are to be believed) forking out for yet another expensive ‘fad’?

published Sunday, Feb 07th

Tatsunoko Vs Capcom Review

When Capcom announced they were working on a new instalment of their ‘vs’ crossover fighting series, the chances of a western release were somewhere between slim and none. Firstly, the game would be matching Capcom’s popular fighting roster with those of manga powerhouse, Tatsunoko – a company with very little exposure outside Japan. Secondly, the Wii, a format not known or built for traditional beat-em-ups, was chosen as the sole home platform. To cap it off, the amount of effort involved in localising the title, including sorting out the tricky issue of licences, appeared too great for Capcom to bother with.

But Capcom have realised (more than any gaming company this gen) that listening to the whims of your fan base can reap big rewards, and Tatsunoko vs Capcom generated a lot of interest from western gamers when it was first announced. To cut a long story short, Capcom have gone through all the necessary hoops and here we are, with the PAL version sitting in our excited laps.

T vs C uses the same gameplay elements as previous versus titles like Marvel vs Capcom; it’s a 2-D fighter with 2 v 2 tag-team bouts. Characters can be switched on the fly or brought into the battle for a single ‘assist’ attack or a larger combo attack. Attacks are performed using three buttons (high-medium-low) instead of the six used for Street Fighter and similar titles. Despite appearing simplified on the surface, there are still the usual combos, specials, hyper specials and counter moves you’d expect from a fighting game. Capcom have succeeded in creating a control system that is both accessible to newcomers and yet deep enough to satisfy hardcore fighting fans. Button bashers may get a few cheap wins against lower level foes but to really excel against good players it takes quite a bit of time and effort to master the move sets and apply them in the heat of battle.

The list of combatants available is very impressive, despite the unknown roster on the Tatsunoko side, with 26 in all. Capcom themselves have got some iconic characters from franchises like Street Fighter and Mega Man, plus a few unexpected appearances, like Viewtiful Joe, Frank West (Dead Rising) and Soki from Onimusha. The Tatsunoko characters may not be well-known over here, but that doesn’t mean they are weaker fighters. Far from it actually – give them a few minutes and you’ll find them to be just as accessible and fun to play with as any of Capcom’s famous faces. Ryu and Ken the Eagle will soon feel as natural a pairing as peanut butter and jam. Overpowered characters were one of the concerns in the Japanese release but this has been tidied up considerably in the western version – the result is almost on a par with Street Fighter 4 in terms of variety and balance.

The same can be said about the game’s presentation, which replaces the 2D sprite art of previous versus titles with something a little closer to Street Fighter 4’s stylised 3D look. Character models have a soft cel-shaded, almost comic book, look to them which happily accommodates both the realistic characters and Tatsunoko’s manga style. The arenas are also very detailed, impressively capturing the look of the various games they have been plucked from.

We couldn’t end a review without mentioning the online modes. In a nut-shell, the online experience is far and away the most pleasing of any Wii game we’ve tried so far. Battles have been completely lag-free and setting up matches against friends or random challengers are mostly pain-free. Capcom have shown Nintendo how to handle online fights, putting Smash Bros Brawl to shame, and the only let down is the inclusion of friend codes, but then that is more an issue from Nintendo’s side. Capcom have also come up with a novel idea to stop people quitting before ranked matches have ended, a problem rife in SF IV. Persistant quitters will find themselves pitted against other quitters when they try and start another ranked match. This makes us smile inside.

Capcom really can do no wrong at the moment and this is yet another high moment. The game is a series of triumphs; the excellent control system, the near-perfect character balance, the wealth of extras and the solid online modes all make this a true success story. Wii owners who are itching for a decent fighter should look no further, and fans of SF IV or the previous versus games really ought to pick this up as it is hands-down one of the best fighters of this or any generation.

The story of this game’s journey to a western release has been a long and intriguing one. Hopefully Capcom will get the happy ending they deserve and we’ll get the chance to get our hands on a sequel.

published Thursday, Jan 28th

Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story Review

Even amongst Nintendo’s esteemed stable of franchises there are few that have had the same consistent level of quality as the Mario RPG series. From the first Squaresoft-developed entry, Mario’s role-playing antics have provided gamers with hundreds of hours of epic adventures, witty dialogue and an addictive battle system. While the franchise may have split into two unique brands (home consoles have enjoyed the Paper Mario series; handhelds have been home to the Mario & Luigi games), the core gameplay elements have remained largely unchanged since the beginning.

This latest adventure gives Mario’s long-time nemesis, Bowser, a starring role. Not only do you get to play as him, you get to play in him as well. After Bowser accepts a strange mushroom from Fawful, a villain from the first Mario & Luigi game, he starts to inhale everything in sight, including Princess Peach, her Toad advisors and the hapless plumbers. While Bowser must try to recapture his castle from Fawful, Mario & Luigi have to search the big lizard’s innards for the Princess and find a way to return to normal.

The game frequently switches between playing as Bowser in the Mushroom Kingdom, and controlling Mario and Luigi inside Bowser’s organs. This constant flipping of game styles keeps the game feeling fresh. The symbiotic relationship between the RPG elements in the Mushroom Kingdom overworld and the platforming sections inside Bowser provides most of the memorable moments of the game. One good example happens early on in the game as the plumbers are exploring Bowser’s stomach. Guide Bowser to a nearby fountain and he starts to guzzle down, filling his stomach with water and enabling Mario & Luigi to reach new areas.

This partnership extends to battles too – Bowser can inhale certain foes, leaving Mario & Luigi to finish them off. Sharing the fight (and its spoils) is an essential strategy if you want to reach the end of this huge adventure. Once again, the battle system is thoroughly addictive and one of the jewels in Mario’s shiny RPG crown. For the uninitiated, fighting enemies is essentially turn-based but by timing certain button presses you can increase an attack’s potency. Watching enemy attacks for tell-tale signs is also important – if you can time your defensive moves correctly you can deflect an attack or even cause them some damage instead. With a lot of practice it’s quite possible to go through most of the game without taking a single hit.

That’s not to say the game is a pushover. Bowser’s Inside Story offers up a pretty meaty challenge, with the main game itself taking upwards of 40 hours to get through, plus a wad of side quests to work through.

Then there’s the presentation, which again is of a really high standard. The locales around the mushroom kingdom are awash with bold, chunky colour; and are as striking as anything on the DS. And who would have thought Bowser’s lower intestine could be quite so beautiful. The design and animation on the characters is top-notch too, possibly the best on the format. Then there’s the roster of enemies and bosses, which are probably the best of the series. The rogue’s gallery includes everything from Thwomps with a bad case of the sniffles, to overweight Goombas sporting lollipops.

From start to finish, Bowser’s Inside Story is an absolute joy to play through. There’s no other RPG on the DS that can offer the same wealth of gameplay, or sustain the high quality. Nintendo may have been perceived by some as having a lacklustre software line-up in 2009, but with games of this calibre can Nintendo fans really complain?

published Wednesday, Jan 20th

Most Anticipated Games Of 2010 – Wii

Most Anticipated Games Of 2010 - Wii

2009 came and went all too quickly for Wii owners, with a distinct lack of big titles from Nintendo themselves and third-party efforts that kept hitting the good-but-not-quite-great mark. 2010 promises to be infinitely better for the Wii, just like the other formats, with the return of three of Nintendo’s biggest franchises, plus a wealth of other promising games from the likes of Capcom, Ubisoft and Rising Star Games.

You already know the score with the three big titles from Nintendo. Mario Galaxy 2, Metroid: Other M and (if we’re lucky) the next Zelda are obviously going to be massive titles, and have quite rightly secured spots in every ‘top 5 to look forward to in 2010’ out there. Though not this one.

“Why is that?” we hear you cry at the back. It’s not because we don’t think they are worthy enough, but more that we feel you’ll probably buy them anyway, whatever we have to say. No, dear reader, instead we’d like to point you in the direction of five games we think will prove to be great stop-gaps between Nintendo’s trinity of juggernauts.

Monster Hunter Tri

This is quite possibly the biggest ‘core’ third-party release on the Wii this year. It’s hard to imagine just how big the Monster Hunter franchise has become in Japan; sales of the PSP versions have rivaled recent Pokemon and Final Fantasy releases. Nintendo has recognised this is a key title, especially after the furore surrounding SquareEnix’s decision to move its development from the PS3 to the Wii, and have really gotten behind the title in Japan. At the time of writing, sales sit just shy of a million units – the biggest selling third-party title so far in Japan. So what kind of game is it? Well, as the title suggests, you hunt and kill monsters in a massive fantasy world, a bit like an online Pokemon. Capcom have gone all out to produce the best looking Wii game ever (prompting Nintendo to announce they are aiming to match or beat Capcom’s title with the next Zelda), and have promised to let western Wii gamers play online completely free. There probably won’t be a better way to spend 200+ hours on the Wii next year.

Endless Ocean 2

Sometimes gamers need a change of pace; a way to escape those alternative virtual careers as space soldiers, medieval warriors or Italian plumbers. Endless Ocean was a great game to play when you needed a relaxing break, but it was a bit too laid back for its own good. It also lacked variety, although the tropical setting was incredibly beautiful all the same. Both criticisms have been fixed for the sequel, with a more structured single player experience and six different environments waiting to be explored. There’s also an added sense of danger, as the fish you come across could turn on you at any moment, hence the addition of a pulsar gun to keep them at bay. If you need to unwind, look no further than this game.

Red Steel 2

We’ve already managed to get a promising hands-on with Ubisoft’s sequel to their biggest launch title. If the rest of the game plays as well as the demo we tried then they could be on to a winner here. Red Steel 2 mixes samurai sword-fighting with a wild west setting, something that immediately marks it out of the crowd. Following complaints about the original, Ubisoft have focused on refining the sword play elements and put a lot more effort into the presentation side of things. Now the Metroid series has returned to its third-person roots, this will undoubtedly be the biggest FPS on the Wii next year.

Tatsunoko vs Capcom

Sadly, Wii owners never got the chance to sample the delights of Street Fighter IV. But being the pleasant chaps they are, Capcom did their best to provide a decent alternative. The biggest surprise surrounding this game isn’t the fact Capcom chose to release it on a format not known for die-hard fighting games, or that it turned out to be almost as good as SF IV. No, the fact it is getting a western release at all, given the high contingent of obscure anime characters, has been a pleasant surprise to even the most hardcore beat-em-up fan. As with Monster Hunter Tri, Capcom have done a fair amount of extra work for the western version, with a slew of extra characters and arenas, and a more refined fighting engine.

No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle

No More Heroes is pretty much the only mature third-party title on the Wii that can be called a must-have. This quirky game riffed on gaming conventions and was absolutely dripping with references to film and gaming culture. The combat wasn’t half bad either, Travis’ battles against each of the Santa Destroy’s eleven rival assassins are among the most entertaining collection of boss battles in any action title. But probably the best thing to come out of the game was main hero Travis Touchdown, possibly the coolest otaku with a light-sabre the gaming world has ever seen. Part two follows Travis’ rise through the national assassins ranks and promises more action, more outrageous bosses and more coconut collecting mini-games.

published Monday, Dec 21st

Dead Space: Extraction Review

With LCD and Plasma TVs making traditional light-gun games virtually impossible to play, it has fallen to the Wii and its trusty sensor bar to provide a suitable home for arcade-style shooters. We’ve already had some great re-releases in the shape of House of the Dead 2&3 and Ghost Squad, plus new additions to established franchises like Resident Evil and the first House of the Dead. Even traditional FPS games like Call of Duty and Medal of Honor have included the option to be played ‘on-rails’. If you’re a fan of the genre, the Wii is clearly the console of choice. With this in mind, EA have got in on the act with this prequel to last year’s classy horror title, Dead Space.

Set on a derelict deep-space mining vessel The USG Ishimura, Dead Space cast players in the role of an engineer battling for survival against an alien virus that re-animated the corpses of dead crew members. It featured a number of innovative gameplay elements and coupled with tremendously effective art direction and sound design, quickly became one of the surprise hits of the year. Dead Space: Extraction is set just prior to the events of the first game, when an alien obelisk is uncovered on the planet Aegis VII, unleashing the Necromorph virus on the mining colony. It features several characters that only made cameos in the first game via the Ishimura’s video recordings, fleshing out their individual stories.

Much has been made of the switch from third-person to first-person on-rails for this Wii outing. Although the decision has been unpopular among certain vocal groups of gamers, it doesn’t end up detracting too much from the experience and is actually helpful in some aspects. Pacing and plot exposition in particular benefit from the rigid structure, and keep the action as tight and intense as the original.

Visceral Games were acclaimed for introducing a bundle of innovative features to the survival horror in Dead Space. Some of those have had to be jettisoned for this title, like the health-bar and HUD-less display, but the impressive graphics, and use of sound are still present. It should be noted that this is one of the most impressive looking Wii games available, and a lot of care has obviously been taken to bring Extraction as close to the graphical fidelity of its predecessor as possible.

Like most games in this genre, Extraction is pretty easy to pick up and play. For the most part, it’s just a case of pointing at bad things on the screen and hitting the trigger to blow their ugly brains out. As you’d expect, the Wii remote is great for this type of game, and Visceral have tried to utilise some of its extra functions to shake things up a little. There are very few ‘waggle moments’ thankfully, but the tilt-sensor has been put to somewhat good use – tilting the remote 90 degrees initiates your weapon’s second function, a good idea but impractical in practise as it’s not easy to do so without losing your aim for a vital second or two. Aiming in general can be problematic, as the unpredictably shaky camera can be very annoying when you’re lining up a shot. The effect can be toned down, but strangely can’t be turned off completely – a major oversight seeing how much it affects the game.

Gamers who refuse to try out this game, and focus on what is isn’t rather than what it is, are really cutting off their nose to spite their face. Based on its own merits, Extraction is an exhilarating experience; one that is full of stand-out moments. It is also a great addition to the series and something that fans of the original should seriously consider purchasing. Hardcore Wii owners need to start showing games like this some support, before publishers are permanently put off from pouring money into bringing similarly well-made, mature titles to the console.

Visceral Games have clearly put a lot of effort into delivering Wii owners a unique and fulfilling title. However, will those gamers who are so vocal about the format’s lack of good third party support acknowledge that fact and put their money where their mouths are?

published Monday, Nov 30th

Top 5 Christmas Games 2010 – Nintendo Wii

In just a few short weeks, a red-suited, brandy-swilling fat man will be breaking into your home and leaving a present or two under your tree. If you’ve made it onto Santa’s ‘nice’ list and don’t have any ideas what to ask him for, then maybe GameBrit can help you. We devised a highly complicated set of formulas to reveal the best possible games you could hope to get for the Nintendo Wii this Christmas. Unfortunately this list included two Yoga games, a collection of crossword puzzles and adaptations of Deal Or No Deal and All-Star Family Fortunes. So we went back to the drawing board, put on our thinking caps and used every other cliche in our big book of clichés to come up with the definitive Christmas buying guide for Wii owners.

So without further stalling for time, here are our top five Christmas picks:

5. A Boy & His Blob

A Boy And His Blob

2D platforming has seen a bit of a resurgence in recent years, and this Christmas the Wii is home to three of the best 2D games of this generation. One of them is already at number 1 on this list (no prizes for guessing what that is) but we found it pretty tough to choose between side-scrolling RPG, Muramasa, and WayForward’s A Boy and his Blob.

This beautiful reimaging of the classic NES title just about edges it. From the wonderful hand-drawn art to the subtly challenging puzzling, this is one of the most pleasant gaming experiences we’ve had in a long time. If you’ve found your love of gaming has been nearly extinguished by a torrent of generic ‘me-too’ games then this is guaranteed to rekindle that spark.

4. Dead Space: Extraction

Dead Space: Extraction

Another genre that’s been given a second wind, thanks to the Wii is the arcade shooter. This year has seen two other great light-gun games released (House of the Dead: Overkill and Resident Evil: Darkside Chronicles) but it’s Visceral Games’ title that really impressed us.

This prequel to last year’s surprise hit Dead Space may have caused controversy by switching genres but it has lost none of the intensity of its grander cousin. There isn’t a better horror title on Wii at the moment, nor are there many better looking than this.

3. Mario & Sonic at the Winter Olympics

Mario & Sonic At The Winter Olympics

Christmas is the ideal time to bring out party games and the Wii has more than its fair share of these. Most are absolutely terrible but this, the second Mario & Sonic sports title, is both well made and highly addictive – a great combination in our eyes.

Whether you fancy flinging Knuckles down a ski slope or partaking in a spot of curling with Yoshi you’ll find enough different sports to keep you and the whole family entertained. With online leaderboards and unlockable ‘dream’ events (winter sports given a Mario or Sonic themed make-over), this will keep you hooked for months.

2. Little King’s Story

Little King's Story

The Wii has no good games. Third parties don’t support Wii. Wii games are for kids. Blah-blah, whinge-whinge, boo-hoo. If one thing was highlighted this year it was that self-proclaimed hardcore Wii gamers are absolute idiots. Great titles like Mad World, The Conduit and Dead Space: Extraction disappeared into the mists of time, with pitifully low sales figures that must surely have rung bells of doom amongst publishers looking to put money into Wii development.

The biggest travesty was that Little King’s Story, one of the most charmingly addictive games of this generation, sank without a trace. A mesmerising mix of real-time strategy and world-building, this even trumped Nintendo’s Pikmin franchise for complexity and heart-warming charm. If you have a Wii and haven’t bought this yet it’s time to make amends. GO. BUY. THIS. GAME.

1. New Super Mario Bros Wii

New Super Mario Brothers Wii

It was probably the most obvious choice for the top spot and not without good reason. Not only is NSMB Wii one of the most challenging 2D Mario games ever, but it’s also an absolutely cracking multiplayer experience. Spin-offs like Mario Party, Mario Kart and Mario Tennis may have provided plenty of multiplayer madness in the past but they can’t hold a candle to the fun in NSMB Wii’s four-player sessions.

Whether you are playing co-operatively or competitively, the action never lets up for a second as you contest for coins, power-ups and points. While it may feel like a best-of compilation of previous Mario games, Nintendo have really upped the ante in terms of difficulty and longevity so expect to be glued to this for the whole holiday period and beyond.

published Thursday, Oct 29th

Brutal Legend Review

Few game designers have the honour of getting their name on the front cover of a game. That’s because only a few designers have the solid reputation and overall influence to sell games on the strength of their involvement in a project. Tim Schafer happens to be one of those designers, having worked on and headed some of the finest adventure games ever made. Alongside Ron Gilbert, he became one of the shining lights at Lucas Arts during their golden-age in the mid-to-late nineties, bringing his distinct sense of humour and unique visual style to the Monkey Island games, Full Throttle and Grim Fandango. It’s no coincidence then that Lucas Arts’ descent into mediocrity began shortly after Schafer left to form his own company Double Fine, which went on to produce the hugely overlooked platformer Psychonauts (check it out in Xbox Originals section on the XBL Marketplace).

Rock and Heavy Metal have rarely been used as inspiration for games, outside the obvious rockstar titles such as Guitar Hero, Rock Band and Schafer’s own Full Throttle. Brutal Legend however, sweats the rock-and-roll lifestyle from every pore. The main hero Eddie Riggs, voiced superbly by Jack Black, vanquishes demonic foes with the swing of an axe and the strum of his sacred guitar Clementine; from which special moves can be pulled off with a quick guitar riff. Allies include brainless head-bangers, who attack by, surprisingly, banging heads or forming deadly mosh pits on command. In addition to the head banging army, Ozzy Osbourne and Lemmy Kilmister from Motorhead, both of whom make several cameo appearances as the upgrade-wielding King of Heavy Metal and the health-restoring Kill Master, respectively. To top it off there’s a great soundtrack featuring over 100 tracks from renowned rock bands like Black Sabbath, Slayer and naturally, Tenacious D. In terms of overall presentation this is one of the most polished games of this generation.

It also manages to be one of the funniest releases in a long, long time. This is thanks to a great script that zings off the screen right from the opening cut scene thanks to some great voice work and direction. If the Spinal Tap team ever made a video game, this would be it. The story follows Eddie Riggs, a road manager for the world’s worst rock band, who is killed during one of their gigs and sucked into a medieval heavy metal world. Eddie joins forces with a band of resistance fighters battling against oppression at the hands of a demon and his glam-rock general Lionwhyte. It may sound over the top, but the story really keeps you sucked in and never misses a chance to throw an in-joke or biting piece of satire at every turn, so much so that it almost seems a shame when a cut scene ends and the game kicks in.

Unfortunately the gameplay never hits the heady heights achieved by the story and presentation. That’s not to say it’s a bad game – it’s incredibly fun to play through – but Brutal Legend tries to juggle too many game types, and ends up being a jack-of-all-trades, master of none. The worst element, although the concept is certainly fresh and original on paper, are the real-time-strategy (RTS) style ‘stage battles’. In these missions you’re charged with protecting your rock stage from enemy troops, while attacking theirs. In order to train extra troops you’ll need to mine ‘fan geysers’ using merchandise stands; get enough fans buying merchandise and you’ll be able to summon extra resources to bring to battle. These stages are weak only because they fall in the same pitfalls as other console RTS games, limitations when using a control pad. Targeting enemies and doling out commands from the ground is frustrating as you can never be sure troops will do what you require them to do, which will result in a lot of unnecessary restarts. On the upside, the combat is the strongest aspect of the game by far – it’s smooth, easy to get to grips with and pretty deep; whilst driving around in Eddie’s customised ‘Deuce’ hot rod is fun in a GTA sort of way, but the car-based combat sections can get frustrating, again due to control issues.

Without the excellent script work and generally high production values, Brutal Legend would have been written off as an average action title, but these attributes do undoubtedly paper over the cracks and turn this into a must-play title. Fans of Heavy Metal bands will love the constant in-jokes, along with the fact that their favoured genre is finally being treated with a little more respect than those other titles that just reduce musical masterpieces to simple coloured-dots falling down a TV screen.

published Saturday, Oct 24th

Harvest Moon: Tree Of Tranquility Review

It’s hard to believe that the Harvest Moon series has managed to notch up ten years in the UK but this year marks that special decade milestone. Since it was first released on the Gameboy in 1999 (the SNES version, out in Japan and the US a few years earlier never made it to our shores) many other franchises have crashed and burnt but gaming’s premier farming series has managed to carve out its own special niche. In contrast to the majority of games that like to throw a steady stream of action, enemies and dialogue at the player, Harvest Moon is content to gently hold your hand and let you wander through it’s unique worlds at your own pace. Few other games can boast such a relaxing experience as these, and few make you work so hard for those rewards.

If you’ve never played a Harvest Moon game before then the latest game, Tree of Tranquillity is a great place to start (alternatively you can download the classic SNES title on the virtual console for a taste of what to expect). Essentially, every game takes the same template: you start as a young farmer entrusted with turning around the fortunes of a run-down farm. You work hard day-by-day, planting seeds, harvesting crops and raising animals, selling any produce to bring in the money needed to upgrade the farm. Time and resource management are important as you only have a limited amount of time and stamina each day so you’ll need to plan ahead if you want to make your farm run as efficiently as possible.

Alongside the farming you also have the chance to build relationships with the locals which is an important and rewarding element as you get to know each character and find out what makes them tick. In turn they can help by pitching in with farming duties, upgrade your equipment or giving you rare items. You can even woo and marry one of several eligible bachelors/bachelorettes and eventually have a little sprog of your own to carry on the family farm. If you have any spare time you can also raise some extra cash fishing, foraging for wild herbs and berries or cook up any of the food items to create various dishes which you can sell or give as a gift to a potential spouse or villager.

Tree of Tranquility is probably the best home console version of the game since the excellent N64 game (still considered by most fans to be the pinnacle of the series), and is certainly the deepest and largest of the recent crop. The Island you find yourself sailing to at the beginning of the game is the largest world featured in a Harvest Moon game and exploring every nook and cranny will take quite a bit of time; there are a lot of locations that are opened up during the course of the story. There are also a lot more things to see and do in this game too – you can buy extra furniture for your house and new clothing for your farmer; wild animals can be befriended and brought back to your farm and you now have the option of working part-time for a bit of cash at the various stores around the Island. This last feature is completely new and is pretty handy, especially at the start of the game as you can make a bit of extra cash and won’t use up any valuable stamina, which is often used up by your daily farming duties.

There are a few areas that take the shine off the whole experience though. While this has one of the largest set of characters they lack the personality and charm of some of the earlier games and you probably won’t care to get to know half the cast. The previous two titles had a handy icon showing where you were aiming when using tools but this has mysteriously disappeared. Finally, the graphics are a bit of a mixed bag, lacking either the cohesive design of the previous Wii title, Magical Melody, or the rich textures and camera control of A Wonderful Life on GameCube.

If you have played and enjoyed a previous Harvest Moon game then you should definitely pick this up, there is so much in this game it will be a long time before you see everything it has to offer and the core gameplay is as addictive as ever. For everyone else it really depends on what sort of game floats your boat; action-hungry gamers may not have the patience for this, but fans of Animal Crossing or The Sims will get a lot of pleasure from Harvest Moon’s quaint offerings.

Rising Star Games by
published Friday, Oct 16th

Industry Insight – Interview With Rising Star Games

Here at Gamebrit HQ, we were recently lucky enough to chat with Tristram Defries from Rising Star games. Tristram has been in the industry for 15 years and is currently responsible for PR at RSG. Gamebrit spoke to him about what’s worked well for the team, the future, and the No More Heroes debate.

GameBrit – How does Rising Star Games choose which games to publish?

Tristram Defries – In short we have to answer a couple of questions as best we can:
1. Does it fit our Home of Japanese Games brand? I.e. is it an entertaining, quality Japanese game?
2. Is it financially viable?

GB – Are there any games you’d love to bring to the UK but can’t due to market pressures?

TD – Yes – but I won’t answer that with specifics.

GB – What titles have been the biggest hits for you?

TD – Harvest Moon DS and No More Heroes. The Harvest Moon series is very popular indeed.

GB – With the stream of ‘shovelware’ released on DS & Wii do you find it more difficult to get your titles noticed?

TD: I think this is a problem faced by any publisher, large or small. Of course it seems a smaller problem if you have (1) a well-known, popular brand or sequel and/or (2) lots of money for marketing – but the latter doesn’t always help deliver a good return on investment.

GB – The Harvest Moon series is getting close to it’s 10 year anniversary in the UK, do you have any events planned to mark this like in Japan and the US?

TD – I won’t say.

GB – Will you be moving into the download market anytime soon?

TD – This is under consideration but I won’t tell you any more than that. Boring, aren’t I? But I’ll do it again.

GB – Are there plans to bring titles to 360 & PS3?

TD – Yes – we will be working with Gamebridge to bring Way of the Samurai 3 to PAL territories in early 2010. We also have plans for RSG titles on 360 and PS3 but it is too early to talk about them.

GB – Has the market for Japanese titles changed during your time at Rising Star Games?

TD – I’ve only worked at Rising Star Games for a few months but it seems to me that “Japanese games” has always been a very broad category that unwarrantedly turns some people off – of course, ‘core’ gamers have been much more willing than ‘casual’ gamers to try Japanese games. However, I think we are persuading an increasing number of people that many Japanese games are great and, of course, that we are The Home of Japanese Games.

GB – When No More Heroes was released in the UK you used the censored Japanese version instead of the US version which had full blood effects. With hindsight, seeing as European gamers are more comfortable with mature content, do you think this decision negatively affected sales?

TD – Well, while I have no wish to reignite this debate, I don’t believe we published a ‘censored’ version: we are the home of Japanese games and so we published the version that was published in Japan. Let’s agree to differ on that!
To answer your question, I’ve seen comments from people who say they didn’t buy the game because it wasn’t the USA version, but I think it is impossible to say which version would have sold more. Suppose we published the USA version instead – I think it would have been rated 18 by PEGI and this may have resulted in fewer sales. This wasn’t the reason why we didn’t publish the USA version, I just think it supports my view that it’s impossible to say whether sales would have been better or worse either way.

GB – Has Little King’s Story hit your sales expectations?

TD – Of course we at Rising Star Games are biased, but we all genuinely think it’s a great game and, if you look at the reviews, which I’m sure you’ll agree are very favourable on the whole – mostly 8s and 9s out of 10 – this is a game that reviewers seem to enjoy too. If you look at the comments on those same reviews and discussions elsewhere on the web you see members of the public largely praising the game as well. We are going to keep trying to persuade people to buy it.
I must add that the developers are lovely people who deserve many more sales!

GB – In future, will you be giving freebies to fans who preorder your titles?

TD- This is under consideration but I won’t tell you any more than that.

GB – Would you consider bringing collectibles or soundtracks to the UK? (We’d to see a Little King’s Story OST!)

TD – This is under consideration but I won’t tell you any more than that. I’m being boring again, aren’t I? In fact, Luminous Arc 2 will include an official soundtrack CD.
You know, we always have our ear to the ground and want to know what people want in terms of such items. Indeed there is a thread on our forum about this very issue.

GB – Murumasa is a beautiful game and one that could plug a gap for hardcore gamers on Wii, will you be backing this title with a strong ad campaign?

TD – I think we have a strong marketing campaign for Muramasa, and we hope to have at least as good as a reception to the game as Ignition had in the USA. It is a fantastic game and has mostly reviewed very well over there.

GB – What big titles can we expect to see from you in 2010?

No More Heroes 2 and Fragile Dreams will prove to be very popular, but we have a great line-up outside of those two, so watch this space!

Our thanks go to Tristram for taking the time to answer our questions. Harvest Moon: Tree of Tranquility is out now in all good games stores

published Friday, Oct 16th

Miyamoto Spills The Beans

Shigeru Miyamoto has just been involved in a media round-table event to promote New Super Mario Bros Wii ahead of its launch next month and has let slip some juicy info on Mario’s future, HD gaming and his disappointment at Wii Music’s reception.

Miyamoto, Mario and Luigi

Miyamoto, Mario and Luigi

When asked about Mario levels created by users of Little Big Planet, Miyamoto had this to say: “This is something I have an interest in exploring, and Mario levels are well suited for it. Mario vs. Donkey Kong made by NST is one I’m involved in, and that’s a game that we’ve explored level creation. I’ve always had an interest in these kinds of creation tools.” If this means future Mario games ship with level editors then colour us excited.

Lee Hobbs