Another week, another Xenoblade binge. As someone who unwisely decided to theme his weekly blog posts around the games he had played that week, I may have discovered a weakness to this format. Namely, becoming enthralled with the same game for the third week on the trot leaving me with nothing to write about.
As I don't want to keep talking about this game - especially the spoiler-heavy late-game where I'm at - for fear of alienating those precious few American readers who I have yet to alienate in completely different ways, I'm going to go off on a sorta tangent and talk about the Wii's library some.
Now, we're at the point in the Wii's life, where - if it were a person - it would be telling the Kinect to get off its damn lawn. Therefore everyone is reasonably up to speed on what largely comprises the Wii's library. For the few uninformed that don't, I've constructed this informative chart:
The "Weird Shit" slice covers every awesome Wii game that goes out of its way to defy any and all modern game genre trappings, expectations and sense. In other words, what Nintendo generally excels at beyond incremental Zelda and Mario releases and not knowing how the internet works. Xenoblade might count as one of these, though as a slightly bizarre but otherwise trope-laden JRPG it wouldn't be entirely out of place on a Sony console. Instead, here's a quick run through of some truly unique Wii titles:
Elebits, or Eledees as it's known over here, is one of the early Wii games that showed me how its motion controls could be used in utterly crazy ways; not just for swinging golf clubs or a Master Sword around. The regular goal of each stage is to run around a house picking up objects and shaking them until tiny creatures fly out, then collecting all the tiny creatures to power up your electrical shakey wand which, true to the Katamari Damacy rulebook of escalation, allows you to eventually pick up larger objects and shake those for even more tiny creatures. Then gravity goes away. Then you're throwing houses around. And then it gets even weirder.
Clearly the original intent of this game, before they added all the insanity with electricity fairies, was to deliver unto players the sheer unbridled joy inherent with walking around a neat and tidy suburban house and causing a horrific mess, sending furniture and boxes and collections of knick-knacks flying every which way in a mad dash for whatever before the stage's time limit ended. There was a game show for children here in the UK with pretty much the same premise and the kids on it always made it seem like the most fun thing in the world. I don't know if this speaks to our repression or what, but then I was never a particularly fastidious child. Or adult. I couldn't say whether it was the interesting, out-there premise or the sheer catharsis of throwing shit around that made this game so much fun. I was too busy having said fun to give it any serious thought.
Little King's Story
Not that ultimate destruction is necessarily what makes a game fun (good place to start, though). Building a small burg into a massive city has been the staple of many a Theme- and Sim- game in the past. Little King's Story isn't quite as in-depth as the major PC simulation-builders, but the way your burgeoning kingdom grows as you go out, explore and become enriched by the many curiosities of the larger world is as rewarding as building any number of fatal roller coasters and futuristic arcologies. Clearly inspired in part by Pikmin, you control the titular diminutive monarch as he orders about colorfully-classed peons, takes down conceptually outlandish rival kings, helps his citizens and many wives with matters both trivial and astronomical and slowly uncovers the origins of his world that ends with perhaps the craziest late-game twist imaginable.
As I said earlier about defying genre descriptors, Little King's Story doesn't really fit anywhere in the grand scheme of things. It has city-building elements, but a lot of it is mostly perfunctory as it unlocks gradually as you complete more of the game and invest in various expansions with your hard-earned gold. It has the Pikmin-esque combat and exploration, but that feels mostly secondary to the building and allows for far more variation in combat than those usual red, yellow, blue flower monsters were ever capable of. You could call it a strategy RPG, but that might be giving the simple gameplay too much credit. It's... a Wii game. That's about all you can say with any authority.
Then again, by all reports the sequel will be a Vita exclusive. So maybe I speak too soon. Dammit, I'm going to have to buy a Vita aren't I? Consarn it, fates. Conspire against me, will you?
I can't even begin to describe Opoona as a game. So I'll start with an abridged version of its story: A family of rotund alien beings crash-land on a world going through some interesting geological processes thanks to an evil comet that has buried itself ominously in the permanent dark side of the planet. The family is separated and thus the eldest son Opoona must travel the troubled globe to seek out his father, mother, younger siblings and several dozen kittens. Alas, not just anyone is let out into the dangerous wilderness between the shielded habitat domes that the planet's civilized populace huddles inside and thus begins Opoona's long quest of performing odd-jobs and errands for the money and seniority that is required for cross-planetary travel. It is almost precisely like the part in Flashback after you make it back to Earth and need to hit the job centre, except you're a potato-shaped alien with a ball flying over your head.
When you aren't doing the various mini-games that comprise the planet's political and commercial infrastructure, you're walking around classic RPG-ish zones such as forests and volcanoes to make it to the next habitat dome. The combat against the native flora and fauna is a time-based exercise where you, as the player, must fling Opoona's flying ball accessory at enemies before they drop your health to zero with their unrelenting attacks. It's sort of like pitching a baseball towards someone with a gun instead of a bat. There's more than a few ways to send your.. psychic ball thing (called a Bon Bon in-game, which explains nothing) towards the enemies, such as a powerful direct pitch or sending it along a curved path that's harder to block. Occasionally you'll need to bend it around forward defenses too. It's an odd system but one that uses the Wii remote effectively and isn't as monotonous as JRPG combat can often become when handled poorly.
I don't know if I can unilaterally recommend Opoona. It's certainly a charming game with more than a few odd twists and turns, but so much of it involves being introduced to some new career-based mini-game or dungeon and then repeat itself perhaps to and beyond the point where its novelty ceases. If you find it cheap anywhere, though, it's definitely worth a peek.
Boom Blox is what it is, so in that sense it's not crazy at all. Just an interesting set of puzzles reminiscent of Jenga, but often involving more explosions and the capricious whims of a chaotic physics engine. It's sort of like Angry Birds if it had depth and innovation and wasn't just a freeware flash game dolled up to the nines and sold to Apple doofuses for whatever bizarre definition they have for "good value". Wow, not sure where that outburst came from. Perhaps I need a nap.
Like the best puzzle games, Boom Blox slowly introduces its various rules and traps as the early levels progress before dropping you into the hard mode like a terrified infant at swim practice. Personally, I'm a much bigger fan of the violent modes that tend to involve throwing an explosive at a crucial load-bearing point of a structure to bring the whole thing collapsing down around me than I am of the one where you have to carefully remove pieces with the express purpose of causing no mishap whatsoever to the structure as a whole. Because that mode involves less things blowing up.
I haven't played the Boom Blox offspring, so I can't speak for how that is, but really this game feels more like a simple proof of concept than a fully multi-layered gaming experience. But like I said before during the bit where I talked about Elebits some, there are times where - like with that game and this one - developers are able to face a new piece of technology (like motion control) and know exactly how to mine it for the maximum funinium and laughterite yields possible. And Will Smith cumface balls.
Zack & Wiki: Quest For Barbaros' Treasure
To finish this up, because I've already spent way longer talking about the Wii than perhaps any other blog on this site, are the adventures of wannabe pirate Zack and wannabe bell monkey thing (?) Wiki. Ostensibly an adventure game in the style of so many LucasArts and Sierra of old, in practice it's a little more like a puzzle game with more than a bit of trial and error. However, unlike in the aforementioned games, which have a playtime comprised largely of trying everything on everything else until the player - in their exasperation - finds a guide and figures out that you need to make a false moustache out of cat hair and maple syrup to pretend to be a guy who doesn't even have a moustache and other such alien paths of logic, the trial and error is an integral part of the game's feeling of discovery. Buttons with indiscernible purposes, enemies and traps which will probably zonk you before you know they exist and solutions that slowly dawn on you as you experiment a little.
That isn't to say Zack & Wiki is perfect. Trial and error gameplay is hardly preferable to being allowed to analyze the situation at a glance and discover a solution on your own, which is often impossible due to the odd rules inherent to each stage. Compounding this issue is the game's scoring system, which basically favors perfect runs using every correct item in order to minimize the amount of work: This usually necessitates a second playthrough of every stage, unless you're some kind of puzzle-solving savant, and frustration creeps in when you accidentally drop an item in the wrong spot and need to restart. Zack controls a little stiffly (to be fair, the game isn't intended as a kinetic action game) and very occasionally, instead of giving you hints on what to do, Wiki will completely black out in protest to the game's anti-piracy stance and force you to figure out things on your own for a day.
However, as adventure games go, especially with how sparse they generally are (though that shouldn't really be used as a positive), Zack and Wiki is an interesting spin on what a graphic adventure game might look like if it was mixed with a Japanese 3D platformer instead of a terribly acted horror movie or an awesomely written horror movie.