Archive for July, 2011

Resident Evil: The Mercenaries 3D

With the real 3DS Resident Evil experience – Revelations – not arriving until later in the year, it would seem that Capcom have simply opted to knock together a bonus game and charge full price for it. It’s a real shame, as Mercenaries is a cracking little shooter that can’t quite shake off the restraints of its bonus game roots.

If you’ve played either Resident Evil 4 or 5, then you’re probably pretty familiar with the objective already. You have two minutes to rack up as many kills as possible before either the time runs out or you eliminate all 150 enemies on each level. Smashing time extensions and killing enemies with melee attacks will allow you to keep playing for longer, while stringing together a combo of defeated enemies will see your score go into the stratosphere before you know it.

Enemies and levels are all taken from the aforementioned games, including classics like the Village and Public Assembly, as well as the lesser-enjoyed levels Warzone, Castle, Missile Area, Mines, Ship Deck and the Prison. The enemies are a mixture of Cultists, Majini and Combat Majini, with a few Uroboros mutations – exploding heads, the shell-like creature made of innards – thrown in for good measure

Adding to your woes are each level’s special enemies, such as the Chainsaw Majini, Garrador, Executioner, Red Executioner, Gatling Gun Majini and the utterly, utterly terrifying Super Chainsaw Ganado (remember him?). Much tougher than the regular foes, these angry bastards crop up at specific points and will kill you – or worse, ruin your score – if not dealt with immediately. Mercifully, they always make a distinctive sound before they arrive so you don’t get surprised by them – although the Big Man Majini is a sneaky bugger – but their appearance is always cause for concern.

Happily, you’re given plenty of ordnance to deal with the bad guys. Each of the eight characters have a different weapons set, alternative costumes and three slots for selected skills. Naturally, mastering all of these means playing the game repeatedly, so if you’re new to the Mercenaries experience, you may find yourself completely overwhelmed. Series veterans will be pleased to see the Chris and Claire, the Redfield siblings, as well as Barry Burton and Rebecca Chambers. Rounding out the cast are Hunk, villain Krauser and eternal nemesis Wesker. The easiest character is undoubtedly Krauser, thanks to his powerful bow and rocket launcher combo, as well as the fact that almost all of his melee attacks are guaranteed to kill.

Scores range from rank D (you survived) to rank SS (you killed pretty much everything), and the better you did, the more the rewards. These can be simply unlocking a new character, opening up the next set of missions, earning a new costume or even being granted a new skill. These are incredibly useful little perks that can dramatically alter the state of play at any given moment. There are perks for almost everything – some improve your melee attacks, some upgrade the functions of each weapon, some increase the amount of time you get from a melee kill and there are some that do incredibly specific things, like give you a time bonus every time an enemy is killed when a seven is in the time counter, or add lightning properties to your melee, or make it much easier to bring down the bigger enemies. Using each skill in a round will grant you points, allowing you to upgrade them to a maximum of three levels, at which point you are granted an additional ability. For instance, the Medic skill increases the amount of health you recover from green herbs, and at level three gives you an extra health bonus from each critical hit you score.

On top of this is an absolutely cracking online mode. While the first three missions are simply training stages designed for single players, later levels allow you to take a friend along for the slaughter, either in local link-up or online. It’s incredibly simple to find a game online as the servers are always busy – in fact, they’re so busy that many games will disappear as you click on them, so it’s easier to host a game than join one. Once you’re in, everything goes smoothly, as the vast majority of players online are utterly excellent, meaning that perfect teamwork is never far away and achieving SS ranks on every mission becomes a doddle. Thankfully, the game doesn’t mind if you score highly in Solo or Duo play, as all the rewards will come to you regardless.

For all the fun, the replayability and the enjoyment that Mercenaries offers, it still cannot escape the fact that it is merely a bonus game stretched out to feature length. Thanks to the incredibly long learning curve – eleven training missions! – the actual game feels decidedly short, with only eighteen levels where you actually get to do your thing. And no matter how many times Capcom switch the enemies, time of day and time extensions around, they can’t hide the fact that you will be playing the same arenas over and over again. What’s weirder is that the game is clearly designed as high score challenge game, so why is it that only your very highest record gets saved?

Almost as if they know that players are more interested in the forthcoming Revelations title, Capcom have stuck a short demo into Mercenaries. While this seems like a great idea, it’s shorter than any demo you have ever played. In fact, it takes longer to load than it does to play through, making it more of an interactive cutscene than a demo. The free trailer in the eshop is longer.

So Mercenaries is a peculiar bag, one that manages to be everything it should have been and yet nothing at all. It’s a cracking co-op title, a solid action game and has plenty of depth to it. However, it can be pretty much done 100% in the space of a week by anyone who knows what they’re doing – the Mercenaries target audience, for instance – so as to whether this is worth full price depends on how much you enjoyed the bonus game the first time around. A shame, really, as it’s almost excellent.



The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D

Is there anything left to say about Ocarina of Time? The game is almost fifteen years old now and has appeared on the N64, GameCube and Wii since then. Surely any power it once had has been diminished by repeat showings, and this latest re-release can only be indicative of the 3DS’s struggle to find its own ‘killer app’.

Or so you’d think. As it turns out, there’s a lot of life left in Ocarina, widely regarded – and rightly so – as the greatest game of all time. The game’s ability to surprise might have been diminished in the thirteen years since its release – the plot twist is the gaming equivalent of ‘I am your father’ – but it’s lost none of its power to leaving players gasping in awe.

If you’ve already played it, you don’t need to the story recapping. If you haven’t, then you are the envy of all the others. You have no idea what awaits you – the scale of the quest, the incredible bosses, the spellbinding music, the dizzying dungeons and temples – everything here feels as fresh as it did on that day in 1998.

Except it’s been given a lick of paint, thanks to the development team at Grezzo. Nintendo’s masterpiece has never looked as good as it does here. Facial animations have been updated, characters now look exactly like the pre-release art detailed them, backgrounds are no longer blurry and distant, textures are sharp and clear and everything looks so real you can almost touch it. The Master Sword now sits in gloomy darkness with a single mystical light thrown down from an overhead window – the sight of which brings shivers of anticipation. The game looks like it could have been made yesterday. Jabu-Jabu’s Belly has never looked so slimy.

On top of this, Grezzo have thrown in a few new features. Completing the game once unlocks the staggering challenge of the Master Quest, which is now even harder than before. Not only are the puzzles more difficult, but enemies deal more damage and everything in the game is mirrored. The other new feature is the excellent Boss Rush mode, activated by going to sleep in Link’s bed. Here you are challenged to fight all the bosses again, one after the other, in one sitting. It’s an outstanding feature, especially given that many of Ocarina’s bosses remain some of the greatest in the series’ history.

Grezzo have even found a way to put the gyroscope to good use. You can now tilt the 3DS to look around at an area, aim with the bow and search for targets with the hookshot. While this may be an acquired taste – for instance, horseback archery is a damn sight harder this way – for many it will present a fun new possibility, and it’s faster to use.

As for the 3D effect, this is perhaps its most staggering use yet. The vast expanse of Hyrule Field, the scale of the bosses, leaping from Zora’s waterfall, making the jump across Gerudo Valley on horseback – these sights were all amazing the first time around. Seeing them in 3D is even greater.

Of course, none of these improvements would mean a thing if the game underneath them wasn’t so good. Ocarina might be showing its age a bit now, with some clunky puzzles, gameplay that was refined even more by the next three titles, the irritating guardian fairy pointing out the obvious every five minutes, but the sheer sense of joy is totally unrivalled. The game is older than most whole franchises, yet the title screen alone still strikes a chord and floods the player with waves of nostalgia. There is nothing on earth like this.

Should you buy Ocarina? Yes, undoubtedly. If you’ve played every single re-release to date, this might be a tough sell as there’s little new here except for a change of depth. However, this is the best version of the best game of all time. If you’ve ever wondered how close games have come to perfection, this is proof.


Dead or Alive Dimensions

And in the red corner, the first rival to Street Fighter’s fighting genre crown, and making its debut appearance on a Nintendo console – Dead or Alive Dimensions. Both are competent, accessible and highly enjoyable fighters, so who will be crowned the champion?

Dimensions marks itself out as a very different fighting game almost immediately by focussing on the technical side of battle, thanks to the infinitely complex Triangle System. Each attack is one of three kinds – Hold, Throw or Strike – and all operate on a rock-paper-scissors scale. For instance, if an opponent attempts a Throw, you can counter with a Strike, defeat a Hold with a Throw or stop a Strike with a Hold. This intricate little system hides a wealth of tactical decisions, making each attack a potential disaster or the ultimate triumph.

In addition to the complex fighting system, each arena features several obstacles that you use to your advantage. People can be kicked through windows, off balconies, down mountains and staircases, all of which adds to the feeling that the fights are organic, that the flow of battle could change at any moment.

There are a wealth of game modes available from the off. The story mode (Chronicle) attempts to fit the stories of the previous four DOA games into one bite-size piece and comes off as totally impenetrable, seeing the player jump from character to character and doing battle with anyone and everyone. It’s a complicated story, but it does also introduce the fighting mechanics to newcomers one piece at a time. It’s also where most of the unlockable characters are hiding, making it well worth the two or three hours of play time.

Other game modes include the token Training, Free Play, Local Play and Internet Play, however, more interesting are the Arcade, Survival and Tag Challenge options. Arcade sees you doing battle with eight of increasingly tough enemies in six different difficulties, while Survival pits you against a non-stop stream of opponents. Weakest of the bunch is Tag Challenge, not because it’s a bad idea (you and a CPU partner versus one or two adversaries), but because the ‘Tag In’ command has been mapped to the Block button. This means that anytime you try to counter an attack, you accidentally summon your partner and one of you gets kicked in the face. It’s a bit of a mess in the end, as no amount of skill or practice can make you not call your partner at the wrong moment.

On top of the various gameplay modes, there’s a wealth of secrets to be dug up. Each character has multiple costumes – at least three, although the female fighters have up to eight – and there are a huge amount of hidden trophy figurines. One thousand, in fact. God knows how you’re supposed to unlock most of them as many appear to be random. Some are earned by completing the modes, others can be purchased at random by exchanging your hard-earned Play Coins. The only real point of the figures is that you can view them in the super-creepy Showcase, where you can angle the females for optimum panty/ breast shots – in full 3D. Funnily enough, this mode has seen the game banned from several countries under child protection laws.

If there’s one major difference between Dimensions and SSFIV, it’s that DOA gets perhaps the best use yet out of the StreetPass feature. Not only can your data pass over to someone else’s 3DS (with a character that fights based on your preferences), but you can download add-ons straight from the developers. At the moment, new costumes are being given out, as well as new Throwdown challenges, where the development team send out their own fighters to lay waste to any challengers. The only downsides are that you can only take on the challenge once – if you lose, tough luck – and that you need to have the game inserted to receive any information.

As for the 3D effect, it works just as well here as you might expect. The ability to try and circle your opponent sees the whole arena shift and swirl before your eyes, although there’s nothing here that really leaps out at you like the Ultra moves in Street Fighter. In fact, using the 3D actually slows down the pace of the game – not by much, but it’s definitely noticeable.

So that’s Dimensions. A worthy adversary to Street Fighter’s crown, although the month-long wait between the games means that any power this game had to wow players had been slightly diminished. Still, it’s an incredibly technical, deep and rewarding scrapper that’s a worthy purchase for any fighting fans. If Street Fighter didn’t feature enough 3D breasts jiggling around, DOA is the next logical choice.


Super Monkey Ball 3D

What went wrong for this once-mighty franchise? The first instalment was the perfect test of skill and courage, forcing players to demonstrate total mastery of the GameCube’s nimble analogue stick in order to navigate a treacherous maze. The slightest mistake saw you plummet to oblivion, but the game was always fair.

This 3D instalment, the seventh in the franchise, is little more than a parody of its former self. Gone is the feeling of skill, the challenge and even most of the fun. This is a game designed for players who can barely walk straight, let alone navigate a pixel-wide guitar string.

The days of choosing between Beginner, Advanced and Expert are long gone, as this game reminds us. Instead there are eight one-size-fits-all worlds, supposedly progressing in difficulty, not that you’ll ever never notice it. Each level is as wide as an airport runway and none of them feature any obstacles harder than bumpers or tiny lumps on the floor. In fact, most of the time your main challenge will be trying to rush through the convoluted maze before the ridiculously generous sixty seconds expires.

If that sounds elitist, then that’s the fault of the writer. After all, this is a game for a new generation of players, for those who aren’t familiar with the glory days of monkeys in balls. But then again, this isn’t a hard game. In fact, the majority of the game can be beaten within two hours. Having stumped up thirty five quid just to play it, you’d expect a little more monkey for your buck.

Sure, there are a couple of other bits bolted on to the side, but they’re equally insipid. Monkey Race is an appalling version of Mario Kart minus the enjoyment. Monkey Fight is a knockoff Smash Bros clone that handles like the developer was drunk and both of these mini games can be played with other people, although your friends may hate you for it. Why isn’t Monkey Target – widely renowned as the best Monkey Ball mini game ever – on here? Was it too similar to Pilotwings? Are Sega so lazy they won’t bother to develop a decent game before they release it?

Not everything about the game is bad. There is one saving grace – the 3D effect is remarkable, especially on some of the busier stages. The backgrounds loop, swirl and entice your eye at all times, miles away and yet so close. The mazes stretch out to the horizon and desperate sprints to the finish line suddenly become so much more intense when you can see how close you are to it.

But, being Sega, they’ve found a way to do away with that. There are two control options for the mazes – the comfortable circle pad and the motion-controlled gyroscopes. Unfortunately, Sega haven’t taken into account that the 3D effect doesn’t work when the system is moved away from being perfectly eye level, meaning that the gyroscope controls can only be used when the 3D is turned off. This is like playing an arcade game after smashing the screen.

Other than that, there’s not much else to say for Super Monkey Ball 3D. Far too short, far too easy, with no replay value at all. Perhaps it’s time to put this franchise to bed.


Pilotwings Resort

Nintendo’s Pilotwings franchise has been sorely missed on the company’s platforms, having last appeared on launch day for the N64. Now the mission-based flight simulator finally makes its return, as a strange hybrid of its former self crossed with one of the games on Wii Sports Resort.

The appeal of the 3D technology is really made obvious here. The gorgeous landscape of Wuhu island stretches out to the (equally beautiful) horizon. The volcano towers above the landscape. The staggered islands are miles from the shoreline. Having the depth makes a world of difference to the game, taking two separate ideas and merging them in an incredible new in-your-face way.

The game is divided into two main sections: Missions and Free Flight. The latter is fairly self-explanatory, consisting of the entire ‘Plane’ game from Wii Sports Resort and adding in extra unlockable vehicles. It’s an amazing demonstration of the 3DS’s capabilities, although the tight time limit often leaves you unable to really explore to your heart’s content. The Missions see you tackling several objective-based flight challenges in three vehicles – the plane, rocket belt and glider.

Easiest of the three is the plane, which has excellent handling and allows you to rattle along at a fair pace, while the glider is probably the hardest, asking you to fly through thermal updrafts at the right angle and stop when needed. The rocket belt seizes the middle ground, managing to be both enjoyable and yet fiddly. There are a host of different missions to complete, ranging from the tutorial missions – land the plane – to the seriously difficult – glide in the air for three minutes before landing immediately.

Adding to the replayability is the three star scoring system. Each set of missions, rated in glass from bronze to diamond, requires a certain amount of completion stars before the next one will unlock, although this usually means earning two of the three stars. Achieving a perfect score simply ups the ante as more variables are introduced and the game is made harder for you. The game seems to delight in taunting you, demanding that you master each vehicle and strive for perfection in all your scores.

Everything counts for your score. There are marker balloons, score capsules and speed panels that require a suicidal burst of energy to crack. The slightest grazing of scenery will see you docked two points, while completing the mission quickly with the perfect landing can mean the difference between passing and failing.

There is one quite massive downside to Pilotwings Resort, and that’s its longevity. While it initially seems like there’s a heck of a lot to do – unlockables, missions, multiple rankings, etc – it won’t take players long to realise that all of these are over far too quickly. At most, there’s a weekend’s play here, and that’s if you go out of your way to see and do everything, which is enormously disappointing for a first-party title.

Admittedly Pilotwings Resort has not been made with lengthy gaming sessions in mind. This, like the Wii Sports titles before it, is the game that you are supposed to show off to your friends and get them hooked on the hardware. From that perspective, the game is a total success. The unforgettable sight of the island as you fly over, under and around it will probably come to define the potential of the 3DS. If only the game had a bit more depth to it and felt like less of a technical demo, this would be a must buy. Like this, it’s destined to be the game you pick up after the first one wears thin.