Month: January 2015

‘Metroid Prime 3: Corruption’ video game review

So the Metroid Prime Trilogy is finally coming to the Wii U? Took them long enough, I had just finished Metroid Prime 3: Corruption on the Wii version of the trilogy that I borrowed from my friend. It’s been so long since I played Metroid Prime 2: Echoes that I can’t even remember how long ago it was. Maybe about seven years? I was surprised how familiar the game felt once things got going, even though it had been so long and the series had moved to a new platform with revised controls.

The Metroid Prime games are first-person-action-adventures. Some may call them a first-person shooter, and yes shooting is the combat, but the focus is on exploration. The gameplay involves exploring planets, scanning stuff for clues, acquiring power-ups to unlock new abilities and defeating enemies. Most of the action takes place in the first-person, especially against enemies with gunfire, but some puzzles require the Morph Ball, where Samus literally turns into a metallic ball and is controlled from a third-person perspective. Many areas you encounter may not be reachable until certain upgrades are found or bosses defeated.

The story Corruption closes the Prime trilogy. Samus has spent the last two games assisting the Galactic Federation in their ongoing fight with the Space Pirates, who have been using Phazon to gain power. Phazon is a newly discovered powerful mutagen substance. In the first game, Phazon corrupts a Metroid (life-sucking organism) and it mutates into a large being called Metroid Prime. After Samus defeats it, it absorbs the Phazon from Samus plus her DNA, and revives itself as a Dark Samus. After Samus defeated that evil doppelganger in Prime 2, it somehow revived itself in space. We get to Prime 3, after Dark Samus invaded the Space Pirates homeworld with Phazon and brainwashed them to be her followers. Dark Samus for some reason wants to spread Phazon across the universe so it spreads the mutagens to various planets. Samus teams up with the Galatic Federation to stop the spread of Phazon, as well as the Space Pirates and Dark Samus.

The storytelling has improved; it’s still convoluted, but much less so. The other Prime games also felt like a one-woman show, but in this game, Samus has other characters to interact with, full voice acting and all, something uncommon in Nintendo games.

There isn’t much new in Samus’s jump from the Gamecube to the Wii, but I’ll say what has changed.

Corruption is more user-friendly. In the first two games, Samus explored one large planet (Tallon IV and Aether respectively), this led to a lot of exhausting backtracking. Metroid Prime 3 instead takes place on multiple planets with many landing sites for Samus’s gunship to travel to. There are several planets, but the game primarily takes place on three, all of which are very different. Bryyo was heavily combat based while Elysia had fewer enemies, meaning a larger focus on exploration. There are also more save points, a lower difficulty and checkpoints, meaning you don’t have to go to the boss area again from the save point after you lose to the vile things, you just start the battle again.

The game of course takes advantage of the Wii’s controls. The GameCube controller almost felt like it was designed to work with the Prime games because each button and control stick had a meaningful purpose. Of course with the Wii Remote pointer, the game now plays a bit more like an FPS. Beams powerups (shots from Samus’s arm gun) are no longer switchable, and are just simply upgraded. The new controls took me a few hours to get used to, but once they clicked I was really happy with them. However, they could be quite frustrating at times. The little things like pushing the Nunchuck forward and back to rip something off with the grapple lasso and pulling the Wii Remote away and towards the screen to take out/put in an energy core could be quite fiddly.

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Another new feature is Hypermode. As part of the story, Samus is corrupted with Phazon and can switch to this powerful but dangerous state. It makes her attacks very powerful but requires life energy. Later on, her corruption becomes so severe that she falls into a corrupted Hypermode and she must use Phazon energy to get out of it, or die. I didn’t quite understand this concept so when the game surprised me a few times by switching on deadly Hypermode I died a couple of times.

When Metroid Prime came out it was acclaimed as one of the best games ever, and looking back, it’s not hard to see why. Scepticism and scorn over Metroid’s 3D transition being in first-person led to a crazy surprise when it came out and we saw it up there with Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time as perfect examples of a 2D series making a fantastic 3D debut. All the Metroid elements were there like the Morph Ball, exploration, a sense of isolation, boss fights, sci-fi settings, Space Pirates and power-ups. Retro Studio’s fantastic innovations such as scanning and different visors made players feel like Samus, and all the aforementioned elements were elevated to immersive highs (although for the sake of full disclosure I haven’t played the 2D Metroids for any meaningful amount of time).

I always liked the Metroid Prime games but never quite loved them. I find it generally hard to get into first-person games in general for some reason, and felt at times that the Metroid Prime games were testing my patience with all the backtracking. I bought the Wii around 2008 or something and Corruption came out a year earlier, but I never felt that it was a must have compared to Smash Bros or Mario Galaxy.

When I first started playing Corruption, I already started feeling frustrated at all the scanning, the fact that you have to be very precise with the aiming instead of just locking on and shoot, and whatever the hell I thought Hypermode was. Once I gave this game a few hours, scanning every room became an exciting habit, the feel of the controls became natural, and I realised how well designed this game actually is.

Metroid Prime 3 is a great game, although I never revelled in the perceived excellence of this series that others had for it. It’s definitely a game for the hardcore crowd, because casual gamers may not find the focus on exploration and scanning too tasteful. For the rest of us, Corruption is a compelling sci-fi adventure.

Rating: 4/5.

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‘Big Hero 6’ review

Pixar Dreamworks Marvel Oh it’s a Disney film Disney have another hit on their hands. This wonderfully animated, charming, creative, heartfelt and humorous movie is not only perfect for the kids but has that grip to entertain absolutely anyone who enters that theatre no matter what age.

Big Hero 6 is a very loose adaptation of the rather obscure Marvel superhero team of the same name. The grammatically invalid name refers to six characters, none of which have any superpowers, but benefit from the wonders of their own scientific creations. The main guy is 14-year old Hiro Hamada, a genius who spends his time competing in illegal robot fights. Hiro meets his older brother Tadashi’s friends at the robotics lab at his university, GoGo, Wasabi, Honey Lemon and Fred. Tadashi also shows Hiro his creation, Baymax, a personal healthcare robot (a big, lovable and soft personal healthcare robot). I don’t wish to talk too much about the events that transpire, but a changed Hiro ends up forming a superhero team with Baymax and Tadashi’s friends to take down a mysterious masked villain.

The movie is set in…San Fransokyo! Yes it’s a combination of Tokyo and San Francisco, yes it’s the coolest damn thing ever and yes I want to live there now! What I found intriguing…and I don’t know if this was intentional or not, but how the city screams Tokyo at night but feels very American during the day. A simple Eastern/Western culture merge has made the world of Big Hero 6 so much more exciting, with the bridge, the trams and the Japanese scripts.

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This suggests a full-blown superhero movie, but that’s only in the second half. Still, this movie is awesome.

Hiro goes through many changes and development through this fast-paced movie. In the beginning I cheered for his cunning tricks in the robot fights but I definitely enjoyed seeing him live up to his potential as a science student and triumph through tragedy. Baymax will of course be the huge draw to this movie. The innocent robot stands out in every single scene he’s in, and not just with his physical presence. All he knows as a personal healthcare robot is to do no harm to any individual. He looks and feels like a big cuddly marshmallow, and naturally this leads to slapstick comedy. It’s also great watching Hiro try to transform him into a fighting superhero, with hilariously mixed results.

The other four members of the group almost felt like peripheral characters rather than part of the main cast, and that’s a shame because they all have likable personalities, brought together by a love for science. Honey Lemon appears at a glance to be a combination of the lovey dovey touchie-feelie blonde, with the fascinated nerd girl, but there’s more to her than that. GoGo is the tough tomboy of the group, but it isn’t beneath her to show compassion.  Fred is a “DUUUUDE” kind of guy, but not of the douchebag variety, while Wasabe is the reserved and sane one without being dull. It’s a refreshingly diverse cast both ethnically and in the female heroes. I hope GoGo’s call to arms, “woman up”, becomes the feminist catchphrase of 2015.

Aside from early on when the friends are introduced, you don’t get to spend much time with them outside of the action scenes. If there’s a sequel (and that’s an if, because Disney’s not a sequel machine like Dreamworks or new-age Pixar), it’d be great to see them develop as they work efficiently and believably as a friendship group bound together by a love of science.

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Speaking of which, the whole movie has a pro-science message, which is drawn into Baymax and the other characters’ powers. The love of science adds to the usual superhero story, by using their brains to make brawns they take down the villain at the end by being clever. It does this without actually boring the audience with scientific content. The twist of the villain’s identity I bet everyone will see coming, but the important thing is his motivations which I thought was handled admirably.

The lack of time to breathe is this movie’s biggest flaw. It does move at a fast pace, which is a strength but also a weakness. Big Hero 6’s short running time did not create something meaningful out of the plot’s shift into a superhero movie. The movie is called Big Hero 6 but it really is Hiro‘s story, with Baymax as his co-star. Now this criticism isn’t a scolding, because who am I to complain about awesome superhero costumes and powers? If a sequel is made, it would be great to explore the other heroes, because they have interesting personalities. In spite of all that, Hiro and Baymax are the heart of the film, and the heart beats strongly.

Big Hero 6 is a really great movie that left me wanting more. No it’s not quite as amazing as Frozen or the best of Pixar, but it’s definitely as great as Tangled or Wreck-It-Ralph. Disney seems to be on another streak of great movies, and Big Hero 6 will be loved by generations, for generations. Go see it!

Rating: 4.5/5.

Even this poster focuses on Hiro and Baymax, rather than the Big Hero 6. Perhaps a more accurate title would be Big Hiro's 6. Also, look how awesome San Fransokyo looks!

Even this poster focuses on Hiro and Baymax, rather than the Big Hero 6. Perhaps a more accurate title would be Big Hiro’s 6, but who cares –  look how cool San Fransokyo is!

2014 in Gaming News

First of all, Rest in Peace the father of video games Ralph H Baer, the creator of the Magnavox Odyssey, the world’s first video game console. Mr Baer, aged 92 died last month. Thank you Mr Baer, the reason why we’re all here.

There seems to be a consensus that 2014 was not a good year for games; not just the software themselves, but for the community as a whole. Looking back, I would have to agree. Next gen consoles appear to be holding us back, rather than pushing things forward, and that’s almost parallel with gaming culture as a whole this year. Lets hope 2015 is a better year.

November saw the one year anniversary of next gen. Apparently the Wii Who, I mean Wii U’s launch two years ago didn’t count, neither did the 3DS back in 2011. Or if you’re exclusively a PC gamer it’s an ongoing thing. But what the hell is going on? Most of the good titles this year were remasters of 2013 games, essentially double dipping.

What’s the point of buying a new gen console if it’s same game after game. It’s like buying a Nintendo console (hehe). New stuff tended to be disappointments such as Destiny and Watch underscore Dogs, more like Watch Underwhelming Dogs.

Both Microsoft and Nintendo finally made their consoles worth a look this year. Wii U finally getting some games actually worth playing, and Microsoft selling a Kinectless Xbox One allowed it to finally outsell the PS4 last month. I’m glad you learned your lesson Microsoft, but we will never forget you trying to justify shitty DRM last year. The Xbox One wasn’t sold to gamers like a powerful product meant to improve our gaming experience, instead Microsoft acted like a political party trying to convince us that their shitty policy is good for the country. Glad you figured out that contempt for the consumers is not a good business practise Micro-dollar sign-oft. Oh and while the PS4 is a great console, seems to be a lack of a quality exclusive games to play on the bloody thing.

In other news Facebook acquired Oculus Rift, meaning the device will benefit from near infinite financial resources. Not included with the company’s plan is the ability to see just how our data will be sold to other companies, that idea’s more virtual than virtual reality. Minecraft was also acquired by Microsoft, with the Playstation Poor and Indiestation Vita versions of the game still releasing and receiving regular updates, meaning that the Vita has more support from Microsoft than Sony itself. But don’t worry gamers, Microsoft RARELY ruins once great companies. It’s Rare. Minecraft is now on almost every platform except Nintendo’s, what a shame you guys, if you can’t even get that one game that every kid is playing, what are you good for?

On the mobile gaming front, King, the company behind the oh so creative and brilliant Candy Crush Saga, spent the early part of the year bullying companies using the words Candy and Saga in their title. This is what an absolute monarchy feels like. Flappy Bird became a global phenomenon at an absolutely unprecedented pace, before almost ceremonially being taken off the App Store because its creator felt uncomfortable by its success. The 3DS continues to sell well, especially in Japan where the New 3DS has taken off, proving that handheld gaming will not be replaced by mobile devices anytime soon. Good, because I’m sick to death of fremium games treating me like a stooge.

You know that console wars between fanboys are becoming ridiculous when framerate and resolution are the number one concern for Xboners and the Playstation Poor. Xbox One was shown to not perform as well as the PS4 in many cases, probably because much of the Xbone’s costs lay in its Kinect voice control wiggle thing. Companies weren’t being upfront about these differences as they preferred to cower in fear of the two big companies and “avoid debates and stuff”. Don’t think that PS4 was immune to all this, with one customer suing the company for $5 million because the Killzone Shadow Falls multiplayer wasn’t in native 1080p as the marketing suggested. Storylines and gameplay aren’t the most important thing people, just the numbers.

Many so-called next-gen games launched full of bugs, incomplete codes and botched servers. 343 Studios couldn’t even get a collection of ports right, with Halo Master Chief Collection shipping with incompetent online multiplayer. Ubisoft finally released a patch to fix all of Assassin’s Creed Unity’s issues, but it may be too little too late as the game has been out for weeks. You know Ubisoft, I know it’s the most financially rewarding thing to release an Assassin’s Creed game every year for the holiday season, but you gave us at least two this year, surely gamers won’t be mad if you postpone the game for a few months to iron out all the bugs? Look at mostly positive response to Witcher 3’s delay. On the other side of the coin, Driveclub on the PS4 is still incomplete. You know what else is missing Sony? Sales!

Oh and speaking of Ubisoft, they are essentially the new Electronic Arts now. Well done Activision, you’ve avoided second fiddle to EA this year, slightly redeeming yourself with a less disappointing Call of Duty.

The depiction and roles of women in games have been at the forefront of the gaming press. Is Bayonetta’s hypersexualisation empowerment or exploitation? Metal Gear Solid: Ground Zeroes is not only an expensive demo, but apparently violently sexist. Assassin’s Creed Unity had no playable women, and Ubisoft’s response only added fuel to the fiery debate.

Australian gamers continued to face barriers in playing the same versions of games that were released overseas. South Park Stick of Truth was censored and Target and Kmart removed GTA V from stores.

On a more serious note, of course we have to acknowledge the elephant in the room. Gamergate. Is Gamergate about ethics in videogame journalism, driving women out of the industry through misogynistic harrassment or is it about whether politics or social agendas have a place in this industry?

Gaming has been around for decades, but unfortunately has not yet received the same legitimacy by the general public compared to other forms of entertainment, such as music, film and literacy. I do not wish to generalise all gamers, but many have fought hard for video games to be considered on the same intellectual level as the aforementioned forms of entertainment. When you look at the double dipped games this year, Tomb Raider, The Last of Us and GTA V, for example, it’s clear that the medium of video games have narrative and immersion qualities that are matched by no other.

The banning of GTA V in Aussie Target and Kmart stores perpetrate the lack of knowledge that many in the public have about video games, channeling their viewpoints from what appears on the surface. It is unfair and a double standard that one game is removed yet many films and books with just as, if not more objectionable content, seem to be untouched.

My thoughts about Gamergate have changed over the many months. Many websites have changed their ethics policy and I see more disclosures on Internet articles, but this occurred near the very beginning, so why is the debate about ethics ongoing?

Once again not generalising to all, but many gamers also wish for social issues and agendas to stay out of gaming. My view is that if gamers want gaming to be seen as a legitimate art form, it needs to be subjected to the same kind of review and social criticism other forms of entertainment experience. Why should ethics in video game journalism even be up for discussion if some don’t want gaming to evolve beyond the status quo? In my view, it seems that the contradictory message of GamerGate is that video games shouldn’t be subjected to political discussions, because they are just video games, but should be free of corruption, because they are more than just video games.

Gamergate as a whole has become this unfortunate stain in the already patchy reputation of the industry and gamers. Gamers aren’t just seen in the eyes of the uninformed gaming public to not only be lazy and nerdy, but vicious misogynists. The good things that should be talked about, such as the integrity of video game journalists, have been largely overshadowed by women being forced out of their homes in response to death threats.

Gamegate has been one bizarre ongoing episode in the history of gaming, and I don’t think in hindsight it will be seen in a positive light in five years from now. There’s no doubt the gaming community has changed, and because video games are a big and influential multi-billion dollar industry, so has the world at large.

‘Super Smash Bros. for Wii U’ review

In my earlier review, I gave Super Smash Bros for Nintendo 3DS a 9 out of 10 and predicted the Wii U version would be the superior version. Is Super Smash Bros for Wii U worth 10 out of 10? Hell yes! If there was just one game I would bring to a deserted island, this would be it.

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Ever since Smash Bros. Melee, I’ve dreamed of playing 6-player Smash. I hoped it would be possible one day. Imagine how surprised I was when not just 6 players were announced…

BUT EIGHT.

EIGHT PLAYER SMASH!!!

OH. MY. GODDDDDD!!!!!!

Even the original eight Smash Bros. characters were excited!

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I’ve played 8-player Smash with my friends and it is absolutely insane. Some may think it makes an already chaotic game too hectic, and it certainly seemed that way at first, but overtime you just relax and revel in the craziness. If eight players are too much to you, at least the fourth or fifth person at your gathering doesn’t have to sit out. Nintendo seems to be the only company pushing multiplayer in the living room, and Smash Bros is perfect for the homely gathering.

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The Wii U version has an exclusive mode called Smash Tour, which is quite simply Smash Bros mixed with Mario Party. Your Mii characters spin a dice to move forward to collect stat boosts and extra fighters. The mini-games in this case are the battles where you fight to steal other player’s fighters. At the set number of turns, the fighters compete in a final battle, with each fighter they collected acting as an extra life to play. Just like Mario Party, the outcome is heavily influenced by random events. Just like Smash Run on the 3DS, I’m glad this mode was included but it’s not my favourite way to play.

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Andddd Nintendo’s obsession with extra peripherals continues. I bought the Gamecube adapter bundle plus a super special Smash Bros. Gamecube controller, because I’ve used that controller since the Melee days. However, the Gamecube adapter is only compatible with Smash Bros and not other Wii U games for reasons unknown. I don’t think this will change, because it even said on the peripheral’s box that it’s only for Smash Bros Wii U.

Thanks for that Nintendo…

In addition to the Gamecube controller, you can use the Wii U Gamepad, Wii Remote, Wii Remote + Nunchuk, Classic Controller, Classic Controller Pro and Wii U Pro Controller to play. So many options available! You can even play the game with the 3DS as long as you have the 3DS version. I don’t think there is a game out there with so many controller options, thus making an eight-player battle not such an impossible task.

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This is the best Smash Bros. to date, but it makes me wonder if the game could have been ever better if they just made the Wii U version. Would we have had more characters, stages and modes if the dev team focused exclusively on the home console version? I wouldn’t say the 3DS version held the franchise back (and that wouldn’t be fair as so many more people have a 3DS), because both versions of the game are incredibly polished. Thankfully, the game physics and character moves are the same on both versions, so the many 3DS owners can still easily go to a friend’s house with the Wii U version and be on a level playing field.

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Don’t worry Brawlers, unlike Smash Bros Brawl, the online is at least playable. As you’d expect, the Wii U performs better online than the 3DS version. Any lag you do experience is generally because of the connection of either you or an opponent, unlike in Brawl where it was just bulls**t. Obviously the usual Nintendo online limitations apply, for example they recommend you buy their ethernet adapter for wired play because they didn’t include an ethernet port on the console. No regional option means that it’s bad luck if I’m battling someone on the other side of the world, which is obviously more prone to lag. Finally, there’s the usual Nintendo lack of online options compared to other games, but the For Fun and For Glory modes were pretty neat ideas, so Super Smash Bros. online is still very, very enjoyable. I’m too competitive at this game to stop playing it, damnit!

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The customisable character feature from the 3DS return intact in the Wii U version. You can create your own Mii character from one of three types (Brawler, Swordplay and Gunner), customise their appearance, their attack, defence and speed stats, and select from nine special modes. All the other characters can be customised too, and have altered special moves to choose from. Aside from the Mii Fighters, Palutena is the only character with completely different special moves to use (but they used the worst ones for her default).

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You can use customs in all modes except online play against strangers, and that includes the Mii Fighters. I think an option to use Mii Fighters in For Fun mode with default stats should have been included.

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Custom is a completely optional mode that you can use to make multiplayer mode more enjoyable or assist in single player modes. Outside of the Mii Fighters I didn’t have much interest in it myself, but a significant barrier to enjoying it was the way custom moves are unlocked. Mii Fighters and Palutena’s custom moveset are unlocked from the beginning, but to unlock the derivatives for the other characters…well you have to keep playing and just hope you get a custom move for your favourite character on the rewards screen. While you can import your customised character from the 3DS version, or export one to it, you still have to unlock the custom moves in both versions. Such a pain.

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Then there’s amiibo, Nintendo’s answer to Skylanders and Disney Infinity, well it was only a matter of time wasn’t it? In Smash, you get the figures of Nintendo characters into the game as customised computer controlled players registered to that Amiibo. I would probably have more fun with them if I had all the custom movesets. You have them battle other players or amiibos to level them up and their AI becomes smarter. Amiibos are a nice but non-essential feature.

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That’s the beauty of Smash. There are so many modes, options and characters to play, that the way you want to play is limitless. You can go through all features, but even if you choose to ignore a mode or two, there’s plenty to do, in both single player and multiplayer.

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This is the best version of the best series ever, making Super Smash Bros for Wii U the best game ever, and obviously my Game of the Year for 2014. The HD visuals look amazing, the online play is functional enough, the variety of game modes is unbelievable and of course the local multiplayer can last forever. The multitude of game options allows so many options and unlockables that it feels meaningful and rewarding every time you pick up and play. You can play how you want. Don’t care for online multiplayer? Despite a lack of story mode, the single player options will keep anyone occupied for a long time.

Man I wish I had this game where was I 8. I was free of responsibilities, yet free of the ability to play video games for hours and hours. Smash Bros for Wii U is a game that can last an entire generation.

Rating: 5/5 – best game ever!!!

This review was originally written for radio. The pre-recorded review was aired on 5th December on the Australian digital radio station SYN Nation, on the show Player One. Unlike the 3DS version review, I’ve revamped this review, because the radio segment aired less than a week after I got the Wii U version. I’ve been playing the game since late November so this adjusted review is the better for it. I paid for the game copy.