When the first Resident Evil landed on the PSOne back in 1996, it made a huge impact and despite earlier titles laying the groundwork, was the first game to be dubbed ‘survival horror’. Bringing with it flesh eating zombies, pre-determined camera angles, limited ammunition, tank-like controls and a highly tense atmosphere.
When it was first revealed, House of the Dead: Overkill caused more than a ripple of excitement amongst Wii owners eager for a bit of hardcore shooting action. The trailer, a humourous pastiche of the grind-house theatre style honoured by Tarantino and Rodriguez in last year’s Planet Terror, had its tongue firmly planted in its cheek and showed a glimpse of a title happy to poke fun at its own legacy. The cheesy nature of the original arcade games had been fully acknowledged and embraced and hopes were high that developer Gas-Powered Games (formerly the Kuju team responsible for Battalion Wars) would treat the gameplay with the same level of respect. As the first of Sega’s holy trinity of hardcore-focussed titles (alongside the newly released brawler Mad World, and the promising looking FPS The Conduit) and the first console exclusive in the well-loved series, everyone questioned whether Overkill could deliver the goods.
The answer would have to be an unequivocal yes – Overkill delivers in spades, and then some. There are few titles that can boast such persistent aesthetics – the trailer’s ‘low-budget horror’ visuals extend to every inch of the game. From the gory nature of the graphics to the soundtrack and even the menus, Overkill soaks itself in the grind-house atmosphere. Tarantino would surely get a kick out of the scratch film effects, the outrageously sweary dialogue and the intentional ‘gaffes’ in the cut-scenes (characters switch clothing, smashed crockery magically reappears), little touches that all serve to raise Overkill above its peers in the genre.
In fact, it really stands head and shoulders above most of the rest of the Wii’s library – in the words of the eloquent Detective Washington: this is the balls. Visually it challenges some of Nintendo’s in-house efforts thanks to its technical ability and attention to detail; levels are atmospheric and even though they consist of well-trod environments (labs, mansions, trains etc.) they are well designed and look gorgeous. The character models are equally impressive, with the many varieties of zombie sickeningly dismembered in the face of your gun-barrel, and some great looking bosses (even if they are easy to beat). Overkill’s sound design is also worthy of a mention, not just for the zingy dialogue between Agent G and the foul-mouthed Detective Washington (swearing is neither big or clever unless it’s coming from the mouth of Mr W) but for the songs created especially for the game which will certainly live in the memory long after you’ve grown tired of dealing death out to zombies.
Thankfully just as much attention has been spent on the gameplay itself as the presentation. Overkill is not just entertaining as a pick-up-and-play arcade shooter, but stands up well to multiple play-throughs and is an absolute blast with friends (playing or watching). The combo system means battling for a high score takes a bit more of a refined approach than simply blasting all over the screen, as successive hits add to your score multiplier, eventually giving you the heady levels of ‘goregasm’ if you can hit enough enemies. There is also extra content unlocked by finding and shooting golden brains hidden in each level. Bonuses like the harder, more extreme Director’s Cut, featuring longer levels and fewer lives. And the chance to view any of the hilarious cut-scenes or listen to any of the music, catering for any gamers with a hankering to show off the necrophilia song to friends.
There are a few issues that almost taint Overkill’s shiny bodywork though, as mentioned earlier the bosses look great but are dispatched too cheaply. A few blasts to the obvious weak-point(s) is all it can take and they’ll be down in minutes. Only one or two have genuinely interesting attack patterns and the end boss really could have been awesome had it been as challenging as it looked. There are also some gripes with the levels, with few chances to explore alternative routes and very little in the way of destructible environments.
They aren’t enough to stop Overkill being anything less than an extremely entertaining title and it stands as a bit of a landmark title in that it’s not just a great reimagining of a classic series but also a sign that developers are really starting to push Nintendo’s little white box. Given the format’s suitability for light-gun games we’re hoping it leads to new outings for the other two genre stalwarts, Virtua Cop and Time Crisis. In the mean time we’re off to watch that ending just once more before bed. Fuck yeah!
It’s hard to talk about Killzone 2 without referring to the famous trailer that graced the floors of E3 back in 2005. Bringing with it the promise of incredible graphics that many argued at the time as not being actual gameplay footage and impossible to render in real time. These claims were soon put to sleep by Sony and very little was publicised about the game until the gameplay video of E3 2007 and the hands on demo featured at the Leipzig Games Convention later that year. Despite these small chunks of exposure, the hype for Killzone 2 continued to build and now, four years after the original trailer, the expectation behind the game is so huge that it really has to be verging on perfect or else it’ll be considered a let down. It seems unfair to judge a game against the inflated anticipation that has been created so it’s going to be ignored for the duration of this review, as ultimately the game is only what is on the disc and what the player experiences.
Back in 1997 the ailing Sega Saturn saw a version of the hit PC shoot-em-up Duke Nukem 3D hit the shelves. On top of being a pretty decent port it contained one of the best and most secretive Easter eggs in gaming history, a little bonus game called Death Tank Zwei. It was a single screen multiplayer title in which up to seven gamers (using the Saturn’s multi-tap peripheral) fought against one another using small tanks. It could only be described as a manic, real-time version of Worms and despite having very simple graphics and minimal sound effects it had a pretty robust physics engine applied to the simple weapons and thrusters attached to each tank. It turned out to be one of the best multiplayer experiences on the console. Now this hidden gem has been resurrected and given a bit of spit and polish by developer Snowblind studios for release on Xbox Live.
Not a lot has changed in the tri-generational leap from Saturn to 360, at least as far as gameplay is concerned. The rules are pretty simple: battles take place on a randomly generated level, you can move your tanks left or right (slowly) and aim and fire your selected weapon which takes a set amount of time to charge up fully. For every kill you notch up you get cash to spend on better weapons or equipment which includes things like guided missiles, nukes, shields and turbo thrusters (letting you fly for a short time). The more powerful weapons take longer to charge up so you’ll have to pick the right time to use them or risk being struck down before you can unleash fiery hell.
The presentation has been inevitably upgraded from the Saturn’s simple vector-ish graphics and it now has pretty beefy sound effects to accompany the ensuing carnage, although it does lack the crazy thrash metal title music from the original. For those few gamers who got to play Death Tank Zwei you might be pleased to hear that the Saturn version is hidden away, just in case you have a hankering to revisit the old classic (it can be unlocked by hitting one of the supply ships that sometimes appear at the top of the screen during battles).
Death Tank was really made for online play so this re-release is a welcome addition to Xbox Live, even if the 1200 points are a bit steep for a multiplayer-only title. Still, after you try the hour-long demo it’ll be pretty difficult to resist spending those points on what is one of the most addictive multiplayer games on Live. See you on the battlefield…
People aren’t content with just buying a game nowadays. Some games come with a shiny metal box, or a t-shirt, and sometimes DRM install limits. Well NERF N-Strike comes with a foam dart pistol.
Upon opening the oversized game box, we find a NERF Switch-Shot EX-3 dart gun and three foam darts, earning the game a 10/10 score before we’ve even taken the plastic wrap off the case. After knocking a few things off the mantelpiece, we find the next amazing part – the pistol firing assembly comes undone, revealing a holster for a Wii controller, turning your NERF gun into a light gun. Things can only go downhill from here.
NERF N-Strike, by EA and Hasbro, is essentially a target-shooting game, in the same vein as the Point Blank series for the PS1, with various robot-shooting modes to fight through. You are set into the shoes of Shane, a video arcade whiz recruited for his light gun skills (how very Last Starfighter), and set up against a series of racially diverse opponents, not unlike Pokemon gym bosses, to test your skills with a wide array of different NERF guns.
The gameplay is solid enough. Generally you are shooting robots as they come at you, either in a rail-based arcade style or in a shooting gallery, or destroying blocks or spheres in one of the game’s gravity-based mini-games. The aim is to beat the high-score of your enemy, which isn’t particularly difficult, while they shout racially stereotyped slogans at you – one example being ‘Jackal’, the Latino challenger, who tells you, “Give up, I could use a siesta anyway”, followed by “You are awful! Maybe you need a siesta!”
The controls are a little awkward at first. The Wii controller makes the light gun top-heavy, meaning you have to steady the barrel with a second hand. Though your gun auto-reloads you’ll find yourself sometimes needing to reload manually, and this is made difficult by designating the A-button for the job, on top of the pistol. Having said that, it’s easy enough to aim two-handed, and the gun’s trigger taps the B-button just fine, so overall it’s not a bad light gun at all.
Visually, the game falls a little short. The fuzzily rendered robots in the arcade mode could have come straight out of a PS2 processor. Having said that, the two gravity-based mini-games look very much Wii-rendered, and this compensates. The way the darts fire on-screen means you have to compensate for the speed of the dart versus the time it takes to reach your target, and this adds some realism to the game, along with the way your darts bounce realistically off of walls when you miss your mark. Animated cut-scenes tell the story as you move through the missions, and these are illustrated in a frame-by-frame style, much like the stylised cut scenes in Mirror’s Edge.
Unlocking the 26 real and fictional NERF guns is a real reason to beat the missions, as earning the various sniper rifles, magnums, missile launchers and machine guns will spur on any kid that grew up in the nineties, where NERF, the indoor answer to the Super Soaker, was one of the coolest things you could show your friends. Having said this, beating the missions takes only a few hours, and with no difficulty setting to speak of the adult gamer is reminded of the game’s youthful target audience. Multiplayer extends the longevity of the game somewhat, though the lack of a second pistol means it’s only good for a quick head-to-head (a’la Wii Play) before it becomes frustrating for the second player.
In conclusion, Nerf N-Strike is a decent course of shooting mini-games, even if it is little easy and short-lived. The Switch-Shot pistol is a solid light gun, and makes the NERF experience that much more realistic. Parents will see that it’s easy and non-violent enough to buy it for their kids, and they’ll likely find themselves playing it alone, too. The real thing you’ll find yourself doing after completing the game is firing foam darts around your house. Unfortunately EA and Hasbro may have inadvertently juxtaposed their fairly good Wii game against the irresistible fun of pinging foam darts off the back of people’s heads. Luckily these pistols can be bought separately for half the price of the full game, avoiding the need to actually buy Nerf N-Strike.
There are few games in history that can claim to be as iconic and important to gaming as Street Fighter 2. Alongside Super Mario Bros, Doom and R-Type, SF 2 served as a flag-bearer for an entire genre and a major influence on just about every title that followed it. Not only did it standardise things like energy bars and character types but it turned beat-em-ups into one of the most popular genres in the world. Arcades, which had slowly been getting less and less popular thanks to a resurgent home console market, were given a massive shot in the arm as school kids around the globe skipped classes to spend their hard earned quarters in SF 2’s sleek arcade cabinets. The early popularity of the SNES can be attributed to the near arcade-perfect (or so Capcom declared at the time) version on Nintendo’s home console, with gamers desperate for the chance to play the title at home.
But like so many other icons, SF 2’s brilliance has left many of its successors in the shade, and even Capcom themselves have struggled to match the refinement and balance of one of their biggest titles. Over the years the beat-em-up has become stagnant next to other genres despite some refinement in things like combos, parries and counters. After squeezing every ounce out of the SF 2 label with super, turbo, championship and HD editions, and the visually arresting Alpha/Zero series Capcom have almost gone back to basics with the latest, Street Fighter 4.
The first thing that hits you is the visual style. Capcom may have already dabbled with 3D graphics in the EX off-shoots, and games like Tekken and Virtua Fighter pulled off convincing 3D fighting systems long ago but SF 4 has an incredibly vivid and unique look to it. In a very obvious nod to its Magnus opus, Capcom have attempted to perfectly replicate the 2D sprites of the old era in glorious 3D. Each fighter has a slightly cell-shaded look to them and appear almost hand-painted when viewed close up. All the animation and moves look and feel like they did 17 years ago, and there are so many little touches in the animations that fans will notice that its just as entertaining watching the game being played as it is taking part yourself. The stages also look the part, with iconic backgrounds such as Chun-Li’s Chinese market and Guile’s US air base looking great in 3D.
So visually Street Fighter 4 very much harkens to days of old but how does it play? Well, unsurprisingly, this remains very faithful to the standard formula but Capcom have done a great job balancing the characters and move sets to make SF 4 feel as close to SF 2 as they could. Old players who haven’t played a beat-em-up since the original will feel right at home here, given a lot of the moves have stayed the same. And the combos, counters and ultra moves plucked from Alpha and given a bit a polish give an added layer of depth that the hardcore will relish practising. One of the joys of SF2 was that any two players could pick up the controller and have a decent stab at a fight – the old adage ‘easy to learn, difficult to master’ was never more appropriate, and its very pleasing to see Capcom adhering to that for this latest title. Button-bashing may get you a few cheap victories against low-level computer players but if you really want to get the best out of the game you’ll need to spend a lot of time perfecting moves and learning how and when to use them in battle, especially if you hope to compete in the online arena.
In a first for the series you can now test your skills against players around the world so you had better get some practise in. While doling out bountiful cans of ‘whupp-ass’ to the chum sitting next to you is still immensely satisfying, getting one over on a cocky Johnny foreigner is just that little bit more special. Online matches are a great addition to the series and will keep SF 4 locked firmly in your disc tray for many months to come. It’s not without problems though, as there are occasional lag issues which given the fast nature of the game can be frustrating. So too are the lobby searching options, which only seem to give you a choice of a couple of opponents at one time, by the time you’ve chosen one to fight the space is already filled up. The only way to get straight into a fight seems to be to set up one of your own, or use the rather excellent fight request feature, which can send a request to a friend if their playing through the arcade mode. Overall, online is still handled well and these few problems could be easily patched if Capcom are feeling charitable.
The only problems stopping this from being given full marks are the above mentioned online issues, the fact that console controllers can’t handle the genre (you really need to invest in an arcade controller) and two major issues of balance. Firstly, the last boss Seth is an extremely frustrating opponent because of his tendency to resort to a constant stream of cheap moves that make any fights above normal difficulty unfairly challenging. Secondly, the inclusion of Akuma’s one-hit KO may please those fans that can pull it off but for everyone else it just makes online fights against such players completely pointless. It’s also a real shame the proposed bonus games from SF 2 (the barrel, brick wall and car smashing ones) didn’t make an appearance, as they would have been the icing on a very tasty cake.
All in all it’s a fantastic conversion of the arcade game and the extra characters and modes make this the definitive version. Street Fighter 4 is not just a glowing tribute to a true classic but a fantastic game in its own right and no fan should be without it.
When Chrono Trigger was released on the SNES way back in 1995 it was a true landmark title, not just in terms of its technical ability or gameplay innovations (more on those later) but also because of its core development team which consisted of some of the most notable figures in RPG gaming all under one roof. This so-called ‘Dream Team’ was aptly named – the father of the Final Fantasy series, Hironobu Sakaguchi sat at the helm, while Square recruited Dragon Quest designers Yuji Hori and Akira Toriyama to lend their years of expertise to the project, which ultimately became one of the greatest games of its time. That Chrono Trigger still sits high on various media outlets’ top 100 lists is a testament to the team’s achievements. Sadly it never got a release in PAL territories; if you thought Europe got a raw deal now, just imagine how bad things were in 1995 – very few RPG epics actually mad it to these shores back then. But now, nearly fifteen years later, Chrono Trigger finally gets a PAL release and the chance to enthral an entirely new generation.
Chrono Trigger’s finely crafted story has been oft copied but rarely matched for pacing, detail and characterisation. One of the reasons for the Dragon Quest games’ continued popularity, despite little innovation in gameplay, has been due to the wonderful stories and the depth of the characters and Yuji Hori’s influence in this department is plain to see. Despite the grandiose themes of time-travel and saving the world, the story never loses sight of the human element. The relationships between heroes Crono, Marle and Lucca and the main antagonist Magus are as complex as you are likely to see in gaming, and their development through the game is handled with great care.
In terms of gameplay, Chrono Trigger was responsible for creating or at least popularising many key innovations in the RPG genre. It was one of the first RPGs to do away with random battles, with enemies being completely visible, and instead of cutting away to a separate battle screen each fight took place in the game world itself. While the battle system was still effectively turn-based (utilising the same active time battle system as the Final Fantasy games from IV onwards) character and enemy placement was important; multiple enemies could be hit from one attack if they were close together for example. Your characters could also combine special attacks (known as techs) to unleash more complex attacks or healing moves. In this DS remake, battle options and stats are now kept on the touch screen so the action remains uncluttered, and can be controlled with the stylus or with traditional buttons.
One of Chrono Trigger’s other unique features which can be seen in a lot of games today are the multiple endings and the subtle way your choices in the game affect little parts of the plot. At the beginning of the game you get to explore a town fair, which has a few mini-games and a couple of side-quests. What you choose to do during this early section plays a small part in one of the later plot twists; recent titles like Fable 2 and Fallout 3 have made a big deal about player decisions changing their plots but Chrono Trigger handles this a little more subtly as it never lets on there are implications for your actions.
It must have been tempting for Square-Enix to have given Chrono Trigger the same 3D update awarded to some of its other back catalogue from the Final Fantasy and Dragon Quest series, but thankfully every pixel of the original remains intact. Even now, it looks and sounds like a masterpiece and has lost nothing in its translation to the DS. Each world contains an eerie sense of familiarity as you travel between the same locations set in different eras and Toriyama’s character designs are simple yet expressive, even on the smaller screen. The score is still one of the most popular amongst gaming music fans and the many tunes composed by Yasunori Mitsuda later Nobou Uematsu (Mitsuda fell ill during the development) have been recreated by Uematsu-San himself to guarantee they sound as good on the DS’ tiny speakers as they did back in 1995.
Altogether this remake should come highly recommended to both fans of the original and those gamers who either weren’t born or weren’t interested at the time of the original release. Chrono Trigger’s impact will undoubtedly be weathered for first-timers raised on polygons and bloom lighting, but it still stands as one of the finest experiences in gaming history and a real treasure.
Dividing opinions over whether or not ‘Flower’ is a gaming masterpiece or just some bloated technical demonstration seems to be surrounding the latest release from LA based ‘thatgamecompany’. Yet regardless of the debate, one thing is certain, Flower is something different and it definitely shows.
whether or not you want to play Flower for the eco-trip, it’s a game worth experiencing
Flowers concept is an amazingly simple one: you are a petal dancing in the wind, you fly around, collect more petals, open new flowers, and pretty greenery flourishes before you; simple. Thankfully the experience overall is tremendously more engaging, and outside the basic gameplay mechanic, lies a path filled with discovery and inquisitive exploration, which create a pleasantly relaxing and uplifting videogame experience.
From the moment you begin playing, the presentation on offer will draw anybody in. Rolling green vistas, lush environments, and an assortment of vivid colours all light up the screen, especially for those playing in high definition. All of these beautiful visuals coupled along with a subtle yet appropriate musical score, and an unobtrusive natural feeling control scheme make for a highly enjoyable diversion from the norm. The aforementioned modest control scheme owes itself to an extremely effective implementation of Sony’s Sixaxis to control the direction in which your petals flow in the wind. The wind itself is controlled by one button; which button is your choice. At no point will the controls aggravate play, and for this Flowers gameplay flows seamlessly from level to level, and is all the more enjoyable for it.
Flower’s gameplay varies in that at times it can seem like a simple relaxing environment to dabble in, or that of a racing game, snaking in and out of ravines, to that of a collect-a-thon, ensuring every flower is open and every petal is gained. How you play is of course down to personal preference, but regardless of playing style, the game elevates a certain air of excitement throughout which ensures the player will strive for completeness and guarantees repeat playthroughs. For something so initially simple and carefree, Flower grows in addictiveness as you progress through the games seven areas.
A message of symbolism is conveyed through Flower’s narrative imagery (if you choose to pay attention to it), and tells the tale of how nature prevails over all. It’s this journey that you take throughout Flower’s levels, and as the game progress becomes a much more prominent theme. Irrespective of whether or not you want to play Flower for the eco-trip it’s a game worth experience, and although it may be somewhat short it’s a number of hours that at the selling price is more than worth it. A striking gaming experience in more ways than one.
Rebooting a franchise can be a risky business, especially when your fan base is one of the most keenly dedicated in gaming circles. Even ten years after its release on the Nintendo 64 Banjo Kazooie still has a massive cult following, with every line of code having been painstakingly analysed by the community in the hope of finding every tiny secret Rare had left in the cartridge. The rich worlds, memorable characters and challenging gameplay made it an instant hit and it still holds up as one of Rare’s (and the format’s) best titles. So surely taking a series that helped define 3D platforming and stripping out every gameplay feature that made it so memorable would be a pretty silly idea? Well that’s just what Rare have done – gone are the intricately designed levels and abilities; in their place are expansive worlds and customisable vehicles. So how does it fare against previous games and should the fan base ready their pitchforks?
From the time you first switch on the game and see the beautifully rendered Spiral Mountain it’s clear that this hasn’t just been a quick, cynical cash-in. Rare certainly haven’t lost their renowned sense of humour either (or their technical prowess for that matter) as evidenced by the hilarious story and the witty, self-deprecating dialogue that sees the bear & bird back in action against old-nemesis Gruntilda after 8 years of pizza and playing video games have taken their toll. The entire game is littered with clever references to Rare’s classic back catalogue and pokes fun at many of the traditional gaming clichés that Rare themselves have been guilty of in the past. The art style and sound design are also wonderfully evocative of the previous games, with some of the most impressive graphics on the 360 and a great musical score that updates many of the originals’ tunes with full orchestral composition.
In terms of game structure it isn’t really a huge departure from previous games, and in fact shares a lot of similarities with 3D platform king, Mario 64. Each of the six worlds are divided into several ‘acts’, slightly different variations containing a couple of challenges and a bunch of musical notes to collect. Jiggies won from these acts are dispensed near the world entrances in the hub-world of Showdown Town and these can be taken to the Jiggy bank in the centre of the town. The more Jiggies you have, the more acts become available. Within each world is a special battle against Gruntilda and if you can beat her you’ll earn a new part for your main vehicle, which you can use to explore more of Showdown Town. The set of challenges also feel very similar to previous games, with typical fetch quests, enemy battles and races making up the majority of the 100+ Jiggy quests. Each world also has a number of Jingo challenges, which are a bit more like mini games, and can see you doing anything from trying to knock down a set of dominoes, to sumo wrestling. They give some much-needed variety, as the main challenges can get repetitive after a while and the game isn’t the most difficult available admittedly.
What will provide most of the longevity and variety is the game’s big selling point, the customisable vehicles. Pretty much any form of transport can be constructed using the easy to use editor which you can find in Mumbo’s garage (accessed at any time by hitting pause) and can be used in nearly every challenge in the game (some give you a set vehicle but most let you use whatever you like). Vehicle parts can be found across Showdown Town or can be bought from Humba Wumba in exchange for musical notes, with rarer and more complex parts made available as you progress. These can be snapped together like Lego bricks to create anything you can imagine. Rare have gone to great efforts to make this an essential part of the Nuts & Bolts experience and you are actively encouraged to experiment with your designs till you come up with something capable of beating particular challenges. The robust internal physics mean you need to put a bit of thought into each creation as factors such as the number of blocks used or the engine size can greatly affect how your vehicle controls in the game. If you don’t feel too creative you can use any one of Humba’s blueprints, which are ready made vehicles you can use anytime, as long as you have the right parts. These are a necessity early on until you get used to making your own.
And not only can you use your creations to complete challenges but they can also be used in the excellent multiplayer. Rare have certainly tried to make a multiplayer experience that taps into the community spirit shown by its existing fan base and again, the vehicle creation is at the heart of it all. If you happen to spot a vehicle that catches your eye you can take a photo of it after a multiplayer match and the game will give you a blueprint so you can reconstruct or edit it as you please. Given the wacky variety of the multiplayer challenges you can expect to see some suitably strange constructions when you go online. There is an impressive number of multiplayer modes available, with races around the main worlds and sports-style challenges like football and darts, alongside more traditional arena combat games.
B&K: Nuts and bolts has very few pitfalls (the pointless and frankly annoying enemies being one of the only major gripes) and while it may not please those fans wishing for a true HD platform game, any that are willing to give it a go will find a deeply enthralling adventure that encapsulates the spirit of the originals perfectly.
After making his debut as the main villain in Mario Land 2 on the Game Boy, Wario became a firm favourite among Nintendo fans, so much so he was given his own series of platforming adventures. These followed the rotund coin-grabber as he tried to get his hands on a multitude of treasures and provided some great alternative platform action for those gamers with an itch to play as Mario’s nemesis. His Warioland series ran for four editions from the Game Boy to the Virtual Boy and GBA but hasn’t seen a new Warioland outing since he broke into micro game heaven in the highly acclaimed Wario Ware games, and last years Wario: Master Of Disguise. He’s also never had the chance to bring his unique platforming antics onto the home consoles (not counting Treasure’s Gamecube oddity, Wario World).
But now Nintendo have given him another chance to go treasure hunting in Warioland: the Shake Dimension on Wii. Once again Wario is after gold and this time the object of his desire is a mysterious bottomless coin sack, stolen alongside the Queen of the shake dimension by the nefarious Shake King. Assisted by Captain Syrup (making a long overdue return from the first Warioland) Wario has to enter the titular dimension, rescue the Queen and defeat the Shake King. Each stage has one of the Queen’s pixie-like creatures (known as Merfles) locked in a cage somewhere, which must be rescued in order to unlock each world’s boss stage. Once you’ve found them the gameplay switches and you have to race back to the start of the level (often taking a completely different path), only this time you’re against the clock.
Along the way you get to use the wii remote (held sideways, NES-style) and it’s motion sensors to help you make your way through the 20+ stages. Aside from throttling anything and everything in your path (by shaking the remote), the remote can be used to direct thrown enemies or cannons (by tilt it) or perform a ground pound move (slamming the controller downwards). Wario has also retained some of his traditional moves like his signature shoulder barge and the ability to be set alight or frozen without taking damage. The motion controls add an extra element to the gameplay but they are not the biggest reason to check out this title.
The first thing that will probably catch your eye is the game’s graphics, which are simply stunning. Each level and frame of animation has been painstakingly hand-drawn by developer Good-Feel and the result is one of the best looking 2D titles ever made. Screenshots hardly do any justice to the level of detail in the stages and the fluidity of Wario and his enemy’s movements. The variety of the levels is impressive even if they do adhere to the usual themes (there’s caves, deserts and the obligatory snow levels). There are even a few cut-scenes provided by Production IG. It’s a real shame then that the main platform elements aren’t quite up to the same standard as the art design.
While each stage has been designed to accommodate both the exploration and the mad dash back to the start, they never offer much of a challenge. This is compounded by enemies that pose very little threat to Wario and seem content to simply meander aimlessly through levels, leaving environmental dangers like spikes and lava to deal the damage. In fact the only time you’re likely to lose a life is during the admittedly excellent boss battles. Instead, the main challenge lies in finding all the treasures (there’s three on each level) or completing ‘missions’ (achievements like completing a stage in a certain time or without taking damage etc.) which do at least give the title some decent replayability past the four hours it will take to see the ending.
Overall, Shake Dimension is a good addition to the series, but you do leave feeling it could have had a bit more to it; more levels and more challenging platform elements would have made this a must have rather than a ‘maybe’ purchase. Ignoring the Wii ware title Lost Winds, and the plethora of golden oldies available on the virtual console, this is the best 2D platform game available on the Wii. And if it’s successful enough (and sales certainly haven’t been disastrous so far) it may hopefully pave the way for similar franchises to receive brand new 2D adventures (Yoshi and Donkey Kong, we’re looking at you).