Nintendo

“Metroid Fusion” video game review

Game Boy Advance’s Metroid Fusion is also known as Metroid 4, but you may not have noticed, as it was released the same day as Gamecube’s Metroid Prime, which went on to be hailed as one of the greatest games of all time. While Prime began a legacy of 3D first-person adventures, Fusion is a 2D action-adventure in the same vein as Super Metroid, also hailed as one of the greatest games of all time. By the way, this is the only 2D Metroid game I’ve played. I’ve completed the Metroid Prime Trilogy and got quite far in Metroid Prime Hunters but never clocked it.

You play as Samus Aran, the greatest bounty hunter in the galaxy, who wears an upgradable space suit granting her special abilities. Her arm cannon is used to gun down enemies, while her Morph Ball ability allows her to literally morph into a ball to roll through tight spaces. At the beginning of the game, much of the area is inaccessible, so Samus must traverse what is accessible to pick up power-ups to make her stronger, acquire new abilities and unlock doors. Oftentimes bosses are standing in the way of achieving these goals. Eventually, more of the area is accessible and Samus’s abilities reach badarsery.

Every other Metroid game prior to Fusion basically said “here you are, this is the area, you’re on all own, go find stuff and use it to kill stuff”. Super Metroid was nice enough to have a map, whereas the original Metroid on the NES has players scribbling out their own map on paper, as well as passwords instead of save stations. In Fusion, you have Navigation Rooms where a computer guides you on what to do next, usually pointing to a Data Room on the map, or telling you to investigate some suspicious activity.

Some may believe this takes away from the Metroidvania style of players being lost and having to find their own way in a non-linear fashion. It is more linear yes, but the guide is simply a step in the right direction. You still have to figure out how to get to the destination yourself, and no-one tells you where secret upgrades are. Samus’s interactions with the computer also help with storytelling. Plus for a handheld game, that pick-up and play nature works well with this new format. I’m not a fan of being lost and wondering around aimlessly (which still can happen despite the game’s linearity), so I liked the way Fusion played.

The story sees Samus bring sent by the Galactic Federation to the Biologic Space Laboratories (BSL) space station after an explosion to see what’s up. The station is swarming with X parasites, which can replicate their hosts physical appearance and memories before killing them. Samus’s new mission is overseen by a computer who she nicknames ‘Adam’, after a late friend.  The Fusion subtitle refers to Samus’s fusion suit; after she is infected by the virus and saved by surgery, parts of her suit have become physically attached to her body and too dangerous to remove. Her infection means a fully capable Samus Aran X parasite is wondering around the BSL.  It’s a good story, well told, and gives a new light to some familiar Metroid characters, mainly the Galactic Federation.metroid4_12

The worst part of a Metroid game is usually the beginning. You’re not only powerless physically, but mentally, as you have no grasp of the world around you. Once you get a groove on everything – the story, the controls, the map – and you start to collect some cool power-ups, Fusion starts to feel and play beautifully.

For a handheld game with 2D sprites, the sound design and graphics work surprisingly well to create atmosphere and tension. The music certainly sounds like it would fit in any science-fiction movie score.

The game is short, but is extended slightly by being very hard. Thankfully there are plenty of save stations around, because no-one likes to repeat things. Unlike Nintendo friends Mario and Zelda, the bosses Samus faces are not easy and go beyond attacking the same spot three times when the boss puts their guard down. No, to defeat the bosses in Fusion, you need speed, endurance and agility, because they hit Samus hard.

I don’t mind short games, you’re likely to actually finish them and Fusion is the sort of game you would want to replay. And of course, good short games don’t overstay their welcome.

For Metroid fans, Fusion is a must-have. In fact, anyone a fan of action games should give this one a spin. It’s a fun, challenging, well-polished and involving sci-fi adventure..

Rating: 4/5.

‘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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‘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.

‘Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS’ review

Super Smash Bros is my favourite game series, and I’ve been there since the very beginning on the Nintendo 64. Needless to say, I was hyped for this game. Do I love it? Hell yeah brother.

Smash Bros is very different from most fighting games where you simply attack an opponent to deplete their health gauge. A typical Smash game takes place on a 2D stage with up to four players, and the objective is to attack opponents to increase their percentage of damage and then knock them out of the stage. The higher their percentage is, the further they fly when attacked. All K.O.s are ringouts, essentially.

The fighting itself is as good as ever. The game has been slightly sped up from Smash Bros Brawl, taking us back to the Melee days. Nothing major has changed, but it is all in the little things that make the experience better, and makes Brawl feel obsolete in comparison. The new stages are well designed, some being utter chaos, something only this series can get away with.

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It amazes me how well the 3DS captures the feel of a console Smash Bros title. While the 3DS does obviously have hardware limitations, the game didn’t feel like a dumbed down handheld port. The only thing that didn’t feel right was the controls at first. The GameCube controller or the Wii Remote nunchuk is the way I play Smash, but the 3DS control layout isn’t as well equipped to handle the fast paced action of Smash Bros. Sometimes the screen zooms too far out and the characters appear too small on screen, even when two players are up close and personal; this is when it’s not necessary to zoom out that far.

Another thing that sets the game apart from other fighters is its aforementioned controls. Many fighting games have players memorise different button and control stick combinations per fighter to have an advantage over other players…but then of course you are easily beaten by the damn button mashers. In Smash Bros, once you figure out the core control commands, you can use them for all characters.

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Despite every character following the same general button commands, each fighter feels incredibly different. Marth’s swordplay is very different from Little Mac’s boxing chops, for example. A rewarding challenge is learning how to utilise the unique attributes of each character.

Super Smash Bros is of course, the Avengers of the Nintendo universe. About 50 characters are playable, from decades of Nintendo history. Mario, Pikachu, Link, Kirby, Samus and many more recognisable players enter the fray, along with some unexpected surprises. Capcom’s MegaMan and Namco’s Pac-Man also make welcome guest appearances, fitting right in with the cartoony ensemble cast, along with Sega’s Sonic the Hedgehog making a welcome return. A handful of characters from the game’s predecessor have been cut. Konami’s Solid Snake, who started the entire guest character concept in Smash, hasn’t returned, presumably because he may not fit in as well as some other characters. Ice Climbers were cut because of the 3DS limitations. The 3DS’s limited horsepower also led to Zero Suit Samus, Shiek and Charizard becoming full characters rather than as part of another character’s transformation, but this is a welcome change.

Characters are customisable now, and you can unlock badges to change their stats. Even their special modes can be altered. There are also special Mii characters that come in three classes: Brawler, Swordfighter and Gunner classes, and these are essentially three different characters that are completely customisable. The customisation options are very impressive and can be used in all modes except when playing online with strangers.

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A staple of the Smash Bros series has been its multiplayer from the very beginning, but lag is an issue. It’s not as bad as Brawl, in fact, nothing is as bad as the lag from Brawl. Even in online matches with one friend who lives 5 minutes away I’ve suffered lag. It’s not a deal breaker, and I’ve had plenty of enjoyable online matches, but the times where the game lagged so much it was almost unplayable just simply isn’t fun.  In fact, I was playing a local match with someone with 3DSs literally centimetres apart and we suffered from latency issues.

Online matches with randoms are split into ‘For Fun’ and ‘For Glory’ modes. For Fun selects stages at random and items are on. Only your wins are recorded. For Glory pits you on flat stages with no hazards and items are turned off. Your wins and losses are recorded. Both For Fun and For Glory have Free for All and Team Battles, and For Glory also having the one versus one, a true test of skill.

The usual Smash versus mode is the star of the show, allowing you, the computer players or friends to battle each other with an astonishing level of customisation. There are free-for-alls and team battles, survival or timed matches, and you can turn items on and pick whatever characters and stages you want. It’s play how you want, and it is excellent. You can have all these same options when you play with your friends online.

Exclusive to the 3DS version is a mode called Smash Run. I was pretty excited about it because it’s based on the City Trial mode from Kirby Air Ride, and oh the memories I have from that mode, and what a great game too! Four fighters are placed in a large map, and you are given five minutes to attack enemies from other Nintendo games in order to collect stat boosts. After time runs out you take that boosted character over to a battle, or sometimes a race.

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Smash Run is a fun distraction, but wasn’t as executed as well as it could have been. In Kirby Air Ride you could attack other players, while in Smash Run you can see the other fighters on the map screen but can’t interact with them. That would have been a fun element. Also, while I gushed about the options of Smash Bros just before, Smash Run is surprisingly restrictive. Searching the map is locked at five minutes, and after all that, your fight lasts one minute. It would make the hunt for stat boosts more meaningful if you could set longer end matches. A lack of an option to actually know what the match is going to be means you won’t necessarily be hunting for certain stat boosts, and I died a little inside when I saw my awesome attack and defence buffs at the end, only to find out the match was a race and I had almost no speed

Classic Mode returns as the single-player mode where you fight one character after another, sometimes giant, sometimes, metal and sometimes in teams.  All-Star mode allows you to fight every character in chronological order starting in 1980 with Pac-Man and ending with Greninja in 2013. Returning modes include the Multi-Man Smash where you defeat as many foes as possible, Home Run Contest where you rough a sandbag up and send it as far as possible with a home-run bat. Target blast is Smash Bros Angry Birds where players fire a bomb with a timer in the hope that it blows up in the right spot to hit all the targets. I haven’t personally spent much time in any of these modes because I’m all about the battles.

There is so much damn content in this game such as trophies, characters, customisations and ways to play with your friends that you’ll be playing it for months. And defeating strangers online is too satisfying to stop. I have been playing around with the new characters and trying to figure out whom to main. Smash works well as a portable game as most matches are very short, so the time on the train has all but disappeared. This game is a must buy for anyone who owns a 3DS. I am hoping the Wii U version won’t have the control or latency issues, but the 3DS version is a very, very, very damn good game. Oh my lordy I love Smash Bros.

4.5/5, Smash it out!

This review was originally written for radio. The pre-recorded review was aired on 31st October on the Australian digital radio station SYN Nation, on the show Player One. I’ve edited the article a bit to make it read better, but all opinions from time this was originally written have been kept intact. I paid for the game copy.

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“Animal Crossing: New Leaf” review

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Animal Crossing: New Leaf has been given  a warm welcome as indicated by the sales numbers and positive reviews. I have fond memories of the first instalment of this series, just named Animal Crossing, back on the Gamecube. My brother and I had the game during the summer holidays when we were kids, and we were both addicted to it. Whoever got out of bed first had the luxury of playing the game first, sometimes for hours at a time. It wasn’t just a game, it was a ritual. I owned the DS follow-up, Wild World, although I skipped the Wii version, Let’s Go to the City. New Leaf just came out for the 3DS, so I picked up my first AC game in approximately 7 years.

Animal Crossing is a game that I find is very hard to sell to people with words. Even the name of the series seems unmarketable. What the series represents is a fun life simulation experience that will last you a very long time. It’s not a game you play a few times with six hour sessions; it’s a game you play hopefully every day for under an hour at a time as there are gameplay mechanics that can only be done once or a few times a day or will take effect the next day (eg. new fossils every day, house expansions being built the next day). AC is a unique game experience that anyone can enjoy, but it’s not an experience that will strike everyone’s fancy.

The main premise of all four games in the series is the same: your human player character has just moved into a rural town populated by talking animals. Once you have settled into your home, what you do from then on is essentially up to you. The twist in the 3DS instalment is that your character is mistaken for the town’s mayor, and your confused character ends up saying “ok sure” and runs with it. The game uses the 3DS’s real time clock to reflect the time of day and the seasons, which in turn leads to day/night, opening/closing hours for stores and events in game (some based on real world holidays).

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Something about the game that still annoys me is that the seasons are still only set to the Northern Hemisphere and can’t be set for the Southern Hemisphere. It’s not a big deal, but it also takes away from the experience a little when I’m playing the game in summer even though it’s winter in real life. Can it be that hard to swap? I’m sure nobody will mind if you keep the snow, or even a Christmas in July thing, but it’s disappointing that Nintendo doesn’t seem to think that Australia, New Zealand and South America deserve acknowledgement.

There is no ultimate goal in the game, but there’s so much room for activities and goals that you can work towards. The game only stops when you no longer feel any enjoyment out of it or perhaps when you feel like you’ve become too addicted to it.

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Part of the charm is your interaction with the townsfolk. You and the citizens can trade stuff, play hide and seek, send and receive letters, and you can run errands for them and change their catchphrases. The developers have made an effort to ensure that in New Leaf these virtual talking animals act more townsfolk-like than ever, allowing the town to (I hate to say it…) ‘come to life’. One thing that annoys me is you can’t just straight out ask them if they have any errands for you, like back in the Gamecube version. You may just randomly be given a job when you have a conversation with them, but I can’t see why I can’t just ask for a job when I want to do something or just chat when I can’t be arsed doing favours.

This franchise is renowned for its customisation, and New Leaf has an overwhelming arsenal of options. You name your player character and your town before you move in. You can reinvent yourself with clothes, hats and accessories. Being the town mayor gives you even more ways to adjust your town to your liking. Isabelle, your secretary, helps you with your mayoral duties and consulting her allows you to do such things like changing the town tune (heard when you talk to animals or when the bell rings each hour), find out the citizens’ satisfaction or even complain about problematic townsfolk. She can also help set up ordinances, allowing laws to be passed such as having shops opened earlier or later, keeping the town clean, or increasing the cost of everything (therefore allowing you to sell things at a larger profit). She also helps you set up development projects (mostly funded by you) towards the building of simple things like a garbage can and a street light, to much bigger investments such as a police station or expansion of the museum. Now this whole mayor system sounds all well and good, and it is, but it’s not as deep as it could have been.

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Another of the major goals of the game is to pay off your home loan to upgrade your house. You start with a tent and can work towards a multiple storey house with a number of rooms as well as a basement. Of course with the open ended free roaming nature of the game, you are never obliged to pay off the debt if you don’t want to, but if you want the extra room for more furniture in your house, you’ll have to. Infamous raccoon dog Tom Nook is the mastermind behind houses in your village, and he resides in his Nook’s Homes store to discuss expanding and exterior decorative options. To pay for all this, I guess you’ll have to make some money, and a ton of it.

The game’s currency is bells. Tom Nook’s nephews Tommy and Timmy run a store, and while you can also sell stuff there, you will make more bringing it to Re-Tail run by a pair of alpacas, who specialise in buying your old stuff. Another store is run by the Able Sisters, who specialise in fashion and also help you create your own clothing designs. Spending money at these stores as well as fulfilling other conditions leads to their expansions as well as new shops opening.

Another major building in the game is the museum run by Blathers the owl. When you move into your town, you’ll find that the museum is completely empty and Blathers relies on your donations. The museum accepts paintings, fossils, bugs, fish and other sea creatures. As you wander around your town, you can catch bugs and fish with a net and fishing rod respectively once you’ve acquired those tools. X marks the spot of fossils on the ground, and you can dig them up with a shovel.  A new feature to the game is the wet suit, which lets you swim in the ocean, where you can dive to catch sea creatures.  If you’ve already donated that fish, bug, fossil or painting, you can sell them for glorious bells. Walking through the museum and seeing your donated items feels like a great reward for your hard work, and everything inside the museum are real life dinosaurs, bugs and fish etc. They all have descriptions, which is a great way to add educational content to the game. Bugs, fish and sea creatures that can be caught depend on the location (river, beach, village or island) and the time of day as well as the season. This means it’ll take at least a year to catch ‘em all.

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You can hold a ton of items in your locker, which can be accessed from any wardrobe, dresser etc in your house as well as at the train station, even in other towns, which is really convenient. However, the game still has a frustrating low number of inventory spaces, which becomes more annoying when you fill it with all the tools and have even less room. This makes catching fish and bugs more annoying as you make frequent trips to Re-Tail or your storage to sell or store items.

The multiplayer and online functions have expanded from Wild World. You can visit the towns of your friends both through local and online communications to help them out or to wreck havoc if you’re a bad friend. All towns have a local fruit, so if you visit a friend with different local fruit, you can bring it back to your town and plant to create a fruit tree as foreign fruit sells for much higher at your local store. Streetpass is also put to excellent use here as 3DS owners can send and receive ‘copies’ of their houses, so you can see other AC players’ houses, which is very cool and an unprecedented number of 3DS owners I Streetpassed have New Leaf.

There was an island you could visit in the original Animal Crossing with Game Boy Advance/Gamecube connectivity, but Nintendo has created an island you can visit anytime you want (once it’s ‘unlocked’) in New Leaf. It’s also a great source of multiplayer fun as you can play mini-games together to win medals that act as a currency on the island. My friends and I enjoyed these multiplayer options, and it’s a great selling point for the game.

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The AC series represents two characteristics I’ve noticed about Nintendo. The first one is that undeniable mass appeal that inhabits their games. The Sims tries to be realistic, and Harvest Moon also mostly involves human characters. Rare’s Viva Pinata series about pinata animals gardening is an exception, probably being the most out there concept on any Xbox console line. The usual Nintendo charm and creativity is all over the game with the vibrant graphics, the happy music and the cartoony characters. Only Nintendo would have a mole named Mr. Resetti tell you off when you reset the game without saving; only Nintendo would have you draw a face on a faceless cat named Bianca; and of course only Nintendo would make a life sim game where the characters are animals.

The other Nintendo characteristic that New Leaf presents is the company’s reliance on releasing follow-up instalments in franchises while not incoporating enough core gameplay changes. Only Nintendo can release the same games and get away with it. All of Nintendo’s consoles lately (including handhelds) have had a new Mario Kart, a ‘new’ New Super Mario Bros. game and a new Animal Crossing game, but most of these new instalments don’t have enough new stuff. I say this with experience; after I played the hell out of the Gamecube version of AC, I felt that Wild World on the DS was just more of the same, despite a few noticeable additions.  I did not get nearly the same enjoyment out of it, not just because it felt so samey, but because I had to start from scratch after completely paying off my debt and filling out the museum in the GC version. I skipped the Wii version purposely because of this reason, plus I also noticed it was criticised for feeling so much like the DS one. In New Leaf, much of my time has been spent once again paying off my debt and filling the museum AGAIN.

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Nintendo may have been aware of these criticisms and added a ton of new stuff for New Leaf, but it’s still not enough for me to shake the feeling that I’ve been here before. I was going to skip New Leaf just like the Wii one, but when I discovered that my friends were getting it and saw the very positive reviews, I caved. I can see that it’s easily the best one I’ve played, but obviously doesn’t have the same impact of the GC version. After I put 35 hours into it, I decided to give the game a rest because despite the sameyness of it, I still was addicted and played it nearly every day and well…university holidays just finished. So it’s a compliment to the game that I had to stop myself playing, and it’s not the game’s fault I’ve grown up with less time for games.

I must say that the New Leaf subtitle did not quite gel with me because while you indeed have to start a new life with a new job as a mayor, the game feels very familiar nonetheless and having to do the same stuff again is annoying. This is something I don’t think future instalments of this game can ever shake off. The new additions are great, but the game needs a change for the inevitable Wii U version (which I bet they just started developing). This series is much better suited as a handheld game anyway as it’s easier to find time to play it.

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The 3D effect compliments the visuals nicely, especially when you are looking at your donations in the museum, but I decided to leave it off for most of this game because AC is a game to just sit back, relax and do nothing, and not stress about holding the 3DS in the perfect spot for the 3D effect. Plus the 3DS battery life is rather short so I’d leave the 3D off.

If you’ve never played an Animal Crossing game before and own a Nintendo 3DS, I can highly recommend this game as it’s perfect for newcomers. Now, there’s a ton of new additions to the series to entice veterans to come back, but I would only recommend it if said veterans had friends to play with. Only hardcore fans of the series would enjoy a single player only experience as it’s more of the same.

From a critical standpoint, New Leaf is easily the best Animal Crossing game in the series. It’s a charming, relaxing and involving experience that can easily become an addiction. Newcomers should buy it immediately, and veterans should think over how they feel about starting over to enjoy the new features.

Rating: 4/5.

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Do you guys agree with this review? What’s your experience with the game?

New Leaf has been selling like crazy, so Nintendo probably has greenleafed a new instalment for the struggling Wii U. What new gameplay mechanics do you think Nintendo should add to the game?

Would love to hear your comments below!

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Super Mario 3D Land

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Since New Super Mario Bros. 2 just came out this week on the Nintendo 3DS, to celebrate I am going to review it…later. In the meantime, here’s a review for its counterpart, Super Mario 3D Land. It’s great to have a brand new Mario title to play, and Super Mario 3D Land is fun, albeit flawed in a number of ways.

Super Mario 3D Land has a rather simple premise – it’s a “3D Mario that plays like a 2D one”. It plays exactly the way you’d expect, New Super Mario Bros. breeding with Super Mario Galaxy. The graphics are quite reminiscent are those two titles too. Of course, just like most Mario games, there is plenty of nostalgia and elements from past titles. Yes, Princess Peach is kidnapped by Bowser, but that’s been the premise of nearly all Mario platformers, and the last thing a Mario platformer needs is a plot.

Gameplay involves reaching the exit in each level, just like the classic games, but you do so in three-dimensions this time as well as in stereoscopic 3D if you hit the 3D slider. Fire Flowers and Super Mushrooms return as power-ups to help you on your way just like all of the traditional Super Mario Bros. games since the 1985 original. If you don’t know, basically if you are hit as regular Mario, you turn into small Mario and if you’re hit as small Mario, you lose a life. Grab a Super Mushroom and you’ll go grow to regular Mario again. You gain an extra hit point if you have an additional power-up. These include the Fire Flower, allowing you to shoot fireballs; the Tanooki Suit, allowing you to hit enemies with your new tail and float in the air; and the Boomerang Suit that gives you an unlimited arsenal of boomerangs to throw.

Most of the boss fights are lame, and evident that Nintendo want to stick to traditions again as you fight the Boom Boom from Super Mario Bros. 3 many times and defeating involves…you guessed it, jumping on his head three times. The Bowser boss battles repeat themselves, but are pretty damn cool nonetheless and at least they don’t involve just hitting him three times in the head. This game seems to be a call-back to Super Mario Bros. 3 in a lot of ways that become obvious as you play. This isn’t New Super Mario Bros. though, so it shouldn’t be resorting to old elements from old titles, it should be in a zone of its own, like Super Mario Galaxy. It takes the special coin system from New Super Mario Bros., so each level features three special coins to find that unlock more levels.

The game is a rather short experience, even when I played through the second quest (not all of it as I couldn’t be bothered finding the special coins to unlock the last few levels), I only put in about 10 hours into the game. Yes the game is fun, which is the most important thing. The problem is the level design. There are some really cool levels here, but a lot of them seem to lack inspiration, especially during the first quest. The second set of levels you unlock, are much better, although some of them are copied and pasted from the first quest with small changes, which is disappointing. The other good thing about the second quest is that the levels are much harder. The first quest is way too easy. If you’ve played a 2D Mario title before, have no fear because you’re almost guaranteed to never run out of lives. Honestly, having a life system at all in games these days is pointless, but Mario games will never remove them because 1-Up Mushrooms are a tradition.

This is hands down the best use of 3D I’ve seen on the 3DS so far. Turning it on does make it easier to see where to jump at times, not that it’s hard with the 3D off. It certainly adds to the very nice visuals too. Despite this, it doesn’t change the fact that 3D is still a very optional thing, and turning it off won’t detract from the experience much at all.

Super Mario 3D Land is fun with tight gameplay and tight controls. It does lack the inspiration of other Marios, such as the wonderful Super Mario Galaxy. It also suffers not just from cutting and pasting from other games, but also from itself. After playing the incredibly innovating and near flawless that was (yes once again) Super Mario Galaxy, I was hoping Super Mario 3D Land would break new ground, rather than turn Super Mario Bros. 3 in three dimensions. I do recommend playing this game, because even though it lacks the spark of other Mario titles, it has more newness to it than the New Super Mario Bros. subseries. The 3D effect works great, but I’ll never use the 3D effect to recommend a 3DS game to anyone because it’s completely optional with such little effect on the gameplay. I rate Super Mario 3D Land 3.5/5, but it would’ve been a 3 if it wasn’t for the awesome second quest.