By Sparky_Buzzsaw 2 Comments
This week's Sparky Buzzsaw gaming blog is going to revolve around primarily two games - Hector Episode 2 and the immensely enjoyable Donkey Kong Country Returns, but I'll also wax a little poetic about the simple joys of Monster Hunter 3. Grab your beer caps and your Slim Jims!
DONKEY KONG COUNTRY RETURNS SHOULD BE ILLEGAL
...and I'll tell you why. I've been thinking a lot about video games lately in terms of cars. Halo is the Hummer of cars. It's loud, brash, utilitarian, and a hell of a lot of fun. Monkey Island is the old VW Golf or GTI. Sure, it's old, but it was a fun car to drive then and it's still a hell of a fun car to drive today. Starcraft 2 is a BMW sedan - it sort of looks similar to its predecessors, but it's all the little changes and improvements that have added up to become one fantastic car.
Well, Donkey Kong Country Returns is that late 60's muscle car you've been rebuilding in the shed for the last decade. Sure, it's not as pretty as the newer models, nor is it completely without its problems. But from the minute you get in until the minute you come to a screeching halt back outside your house, you have this big shit-eating grin on your face because it's just so damn much fun to drive.
Donkey Kong Country Returns is not a game filled with innovations or the shiniest new technology. But holy hell, it is incredibly fun, difficult in all the deliciously right ways, and it's a throwback without feeling antiquated or irrelevant. This is, frankly, the sort of game that made me a lifelong gamer in the first place. The art style is superb. They've taken the fundamentals of Donkey Kong Country 1, 2, and 3, and added all sorts of neat new visual effects and spiffed them up for a modern generation. It's as though this generation of games had followed right after the days of the SNES with all the new shiny graphical capabilities of the Wii. Now, I know that's not supposedly saying much when you stack it up against the Modern Warfare 2's or the Crysis's of the world, but anyone with a heart and soul and a fondness for great classic Nintendo style will immediately see what I'm talking about.
The details are really what sets the game apart from its predecessors. The gameplay is roughly about the same as it was in the days of the SNES - you won't find too much different in terms of controls or the basic way you play the game. But they've taken everything up a notch in terms of the design. Certain parts of the background become interactive at times, leading to some nifty hidden bananas or other collectibles. You can actually shift to a section of the background further back than the front stage, which doesn't sound like much when I explain it here, but it leads to some ingenious puzzles and tense gameplay moments. And as the game progresses, the backgrounds become more of a central focus. One of the most brilliantly designed levels is one where you're racing across a stage as tidal waves are coming in. You actually have to hide behind rocks, time your movements just so, and avoid baddies all at the same time to dodge the waves. It's intense, sweet-looking, and indicative of the type of genius design that has gone into all the elements of this game.
I'll review it at some point, but suffice it to say, this is a 5 star game for me, without question. The difficulty can be a little rough (and at times, inconsistent - you'll earn a crap ton of lives on certain easier levels, but other times, you'll be needing every single one of them on some of the more frustrating later levels), and sometimes the motion controlled movements are a shade imprecise, but other than that, it's simply one of the best games I've played this year and certainly among the very best 2D platformers I've ever seen.
CLASSIC ADVENTURE GAMING IN A SHINY NEW BOX
Hector: Episode 2 is pretty similar to the first episode, minus a bit of character swapping here and there. It's a classic "you can't die" point-and-click adventure game, with all the great and bad that comes with that label. There's genuine joy to be had in its fairly simple puzzle solving, and there's not much pixel hunting to be found here. The graphics and objects are distinctive enough that even a guy with my vision never had any trouble finding clues, objects, or anything in the environments I needed.
The graphics are growing on me. I think with a couple more guys to add in a few more frames of animation (especially when walking), they'd actually be pretty damn good. The script is solid. There's some genuinely funny moments, even if the humor's a bit juvenile (that doesn't really bug me, but it probably will irk some people).
The only real problem with Hector: Ep. 2 is that its small team makes it harder to stack against the likes of Telltale's other games. It also won't hold a candle against, say, something like Heavy Rain, but it's not supposed to. This is the adventure game equivalent of cotton candy - it's delicious, but it's not really meant to be a full-on meal. I was also fairly pissed that buying Hector: Episode 1 did not entitle me to Ep. 2 or 3, but now you have the option of buying all three at once.
Monster Hunter 3 on the Wii didn't exactly generate a ton of buzz here in the West, and it's understandable. The game is, essentially, all the combat and gathering bits of an MMORPG without any real story or a seriously inhabited multiplayer mode. That being said, it's still a very fun game. There's a simplistic joy to it. For some reason, I keep thinking of it as the RPG equivalent of Animal Crossing. If you go into it looking to play for hours, you're going to be sorely disappointed. If you go into it looking for something to entertain you for 15 minute chunks over a long period of time, it's absolutely fantastic.
In other mediums, namely books, I've been rereading Scott Lynch's superb Locke Lamora novels. If you haven't given them a shot, I highly recommend them. They're clever, very entertaining, and super addictive. I can't wait for the next one to come out. I suspect after that I'll be looking to sate my need for a good horror novel or two.
If you're like me and interested in the slightest in Forza 4, go to Giant Bomb mod PSEG's blog right now and read up on his tips for maximizing your potential going into Forza 4. He details what cars will be transferrable (only four! Boo!), what will happen with your driver level, and many other great details. Get on it!
Next week, I'll probably be starting a small section on Disgaea 4, which comes out this week. I'll be cataloguing my travels through that game, hopefully both for amusement and to drum up interest in a great series of games. Until then, keep it classy.