Game Review – HarmoKnight

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HarmoKnight (3DS)
Developer: Game Freak
Price: $15

Stripped of the singing and dancing, Glee’s high school dramatics are simple. Trite even. It revels in discussing social issues – like homophobia and, just recently, Chris Brown – to varying degrees of success. But that’s not the point. Other than the requisite Brittany quips and Sue Sylvester’s bullying, people are tuning in to hear their beloved characters sing “Call Me Maybe.”

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Etrian Odyssey IV goes straight to the killing

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Etrian Odyssey IV: Legends of the Titan (3DS)
Developed: Atlus
Publisher: Atlus
MSRP: $39.99
Release Date: February 26

Etrian Odyssey scoffs at other role-playing games that slowly dole out options for customization. Pick five heroes among six classes to comprise your party. Here’s four skill points for them to assign. Purchase some equipment. Here’s an airship. Now go! There’s no story, no spoon-feeding of mechanics, and rarely ever guidance. For those seeking exploration and random encounters that immediately challenge, without the fuss of a narrative, this is paradise.

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Monsters are now rendered in 3D as opposed to static images, which lessens their detail but provides more personality. My issue with the visuals is the old-school first-person view of the battles. You pick, to a certain extent, how your party looks yet they’re never displayed in battle. It’s hard to get attached to your team when they’re getting hit off-screen.

It’s a tiny complaint in an otherwise airtight formula. Like the recently released Fire Emblem: Awakening, there’s even a casual mode that removes many of the distressing features that make this series somewhat daunting for the uninitiated. Those uninitiated should check this demo out. It’s a deliciously dense sampling of distilled role-playing.

New Super Mario Bros. U Review

New Super Mario Bros U

New Super Mario Bros. U (Wii U)
Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
MSRP: $59.99

Think back to when you started your first sudoku. Solving the simplest puzzle was a reward, with each subsequent effort helping to build your repertoire of skills. This sort of pattern recognition is also integral to the Mario experience and one that has been ingrained in gamers for decades. Recklessly jumping through Iggy’s Castle with more than a few scratches may prove rewarding if it’s your first time playing, but finishing each level inevitably becomes the bare minimum. The real challenge of the stages becomes hunting for their secrets. Learning how to find these hidden goodies takes practice, much like figuring out where that 2 belongs in an expert level sudoku, but the dedication pays more than a few 1-ups worth of coins.

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Fire Emblem: Awakening (without memory)

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Fire Emblem: Awakening (3DS)
Developer: Intelligent Systems
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: February 4
MSRP: $39.99

“Oh fuck you,” I moaned to my 3DS, mere moments into the newly released demo for Fire Emblem: Awakening found on the eShop. Not only did the thing tease me by restricting all customization options for my main hero Robin (a perfectly gender-ambiguous name), but it also starts with him having just been discovered with amnesia. For someone who has little interest in the series and the entire turn-based strategy genre, these two decisions put a sour taste in my mouth, and not the yummy Sour Patch Kids kind.

If you’re willing to look past the amnesia plot point (something I’m not at all willing to do. I stopped playing Tale of Graces f last year for this reason entirely.), what remains are all the things you’d expect from a Fire Emblem installment but now with some extra graphicals. Maps and character sprites lack detail, but the animations are silky smooth during combat with adequately detailed models. It switches between maps and battle sequences quickly and you have a few minor camera control options during the action.

Fans of moving archers, warriors, and mages tactically and advantageously on grid-based maps will eat this stuff up, but those who haven’t been able to get into the series or genre (me!) won’t glean much from trying it out.

Metacritic prediction: 80

Kid Icarus: Uprising Review

Kid Icarus: Uprising (3DS)
Developer: Project Sora
Publisher: Nintendo
MSRP: $39.99

If my review process (i.e. playing more video games than I ought to) has taught me anything, it is that the worse a game is, the more willing I am to endure excruciatingly extensive play sessions. I derive little from playing poorly executed games, so having them loom over my head is enough to drive me crazy. Dedicating eight hours of my day to play games I normally would not is the only escape. After a short time with Kid Icarus: Uprising, the opposite was happening—I was savoring each and every of the game’s twenty-five chapters, and even repeatedly replaying old chapters to further prolong the process. That I was enjoying Uprising did not come as a surprise, but the reason why I did was completely unexpected, especially for a Nintendo property.

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The 3DS: When Form Fetters Function

When I bought the original Nintendo DS at launch, I picked up Feel the Magic XY/XX —the first game I played that used a touch screen to directly control gameplay. Dragging the stylus across the screen to guide my black-silhouetted character through a treacherous, spike-filled path was a completely unique experience. Many of the other mini-games don’t measure up, especially the ones where you tap charging bulls and pinching scorpions, but for a launch title, it got me sufficiently excited for future DS games.

Then came Kirby: Canvas Curse, Trauma Center: Under the Knife, WarioWare: Touched!, Elite Beat Agents, and The World Ends With You. These games took further advantage of the bottom screen’s touchpad. Guiding Kirby with rainbow lines was a radical departure gameplay-wise from previous installments in the series that no other platform (at the time) could hope to replicate. When that game released, it single-handedly proved that the touchscreen was not a gimmick, but instead a completely new way to play video games.

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Rhythm Heaven Fever Review

Rhythm Heaven Fever (Wii)
Developer: Nintendo, TNX
Publisher: Nintendo

Using your Wii controller to conduct bizarre sequences with straightforward, cadenced button taps, Rhythm Heaven Fever requires players to “keep the beat” — a focus few other games of the genre emphasize. It utilizes two buttons the entire game, yet it manages to craft consistently quirky and addictive animated portraits — a wrestler being interviewed, a samurai fighting off demons, a factory that screws on robot heads, to name a few — that manipulate the simple mechanics ever-so-slightly to ensure no two games are identical. This minimalist approach to game design can prove repetitive, as you rhythmically tap the A button for hours, but the game’s endearing art direction and wacky tunes ensure a memorable ride through the latest Rhythm Heaven entry.
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Gorgeous Kid Icarus: Uprising trailer eases my doubts

I still have no idea if Kid Icarus: Uprising is going to be any good. Between the yearlong delay and the included stand, to prevent cramping, I am worried that it may not come together as well as I want it to. I really like the idea of scalable difficulty though, with more lucrative weapon drops appearing on harder settings. But on-foot combat still looks clunky in a Star Fox: Assault kind of way. Beautiful trailers, like this one, help dissuade my uncertainties.

Maku Wahu will remain broken

 

I remember the first time I played Maku Wahu online. I was in first with a solid lead. Then, inexplicably, I was in fifth place. No wonder people kept requesting it. Damn cheaters!

GamesRadar asked Nintendo if they intended to fix this issue. Their official response:

Thanks for your patience in waiting for a response during this busy time of year. We are aware that it is possible to navigate a certain part of the track in Wuhu Island in a way that allows a large part of the course to be bypassed. There are no plans to update the game to remove this shortcut as doing so would create an unfair advantage for the users of the original release of the game. Rest assured your comments have been added to our records for Mario Kart 7.

It seems silly to worry that much about the local-multiplayer. Does that also mean every Nintendo game that has a glitch online will be ignored? How promising!

Mario Kart 7 Review

Mario Kart 7 (3DS)
Developer: Nintendo EAD, Retro Studios
Publisher: Nintendo
MSRP: $39.99

I am bugged by games that are competitive in nature and include design choices which prevent skilled players from winning. I have completely disregarded the Mario Kart franchise since  the inclusion of the blue shell. It is an item that often robs the leader of victory. And when the leader is you, it is impossible not to be upset. But now having played Mario Kart 7, I realize that winning is not everything. Sure, the game has some frustrating design quirks that are repeatedly not addressed with each installment, but the core fun of Mario Kart still shines through.

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