Objective: Get the gold in Grand Prix! Set high scores in Time Trials! Just come in first!
How it Works: As the sixth game in the Mario Kart series, Mario Kart Wii largely follows the formula of the other games. Several different characters and karts are available to choose, each with somewhat unique properties. Items can be picked up during the race to keep things from becoming too predictable.
Mario Kart Wii features several new features as well. First, the Wii offers motion controls in the form of a wheel-shaped peripheral. Second, motorcycles can be ridden alongside karts. Third, a new crop of items are featured, such as mega mushrooms and thunder clouds. Finally, online racing was available from release through to May 2014.
Thoughts: Of all the Mario Kart games featured in the book, Mario Kart Wii stands out as the best. It also happens to be the one I've played most. Playing older Mario Karts after this one makes me lament the lack of motorbikes and the small selection of courses.
Personally I stay away from the motion controls, as I find them very difficult. I prefer the Wiimote & nunchuk combo, although GameCube and Wii Classic controllers are also supported.
Objective: Guide your monkey safely through the goal to advance to the next floor.
How it Works: This is a very simple arcade-style game. The only control is the analogue stick, which tilts the entire floor in the desired direction. The monkey ball rolls based on gravity, and you must guide the ball past obstacles/holes and through the goal posts. Upon completion of the level, you move to the next floor. There are 10 Beginner levels, 30 Advanced, and 50 Expert, with bonus stages for completing a difficulty without falling.
The GameCube version also has other play modes: "Party" games include multiplayer racing & fighting while "Mini" games consist of bowling, billiards, and golf using the monkey ball.
Thoughts: Super Monkey Ball's success lies in how easy it is to learn. Anyone can pick up the controlled and figure it out before the end of the first stage. However it also manages to make extremely challenging (read: frustrating) stages by having thin and/or moving pathways and an imposing time limit. I found Beginning and most of Advanced to be passable, but I couldn't even crack the first 10 floors on expert.
Admittedly, I had no interest in the multiplayer modes, so I didn't bother trying them.
Objective: Soma Cruz, with his dominion over the souls of demons, must prevent Graham Jones from becoming the reincarnation of Dracula.
How it Works: Like the other Castlevania games since Symphony of the Night, Aria of Sorrow is an action-RPG that follows the open world format of Metroid. Soma's basic actions are normal attack, special attack, and jumping.
By defeating enemies you gain experience point, which go towards levels (and stat upgrades). Enemies also have a chance of dropping items and "souls." Each soul fits into a category (Bullet = special attack; Guardian = magic abilities; Enchant = status boosts; Ability = passive abilities) and the power of the soul is increased by collecting repeat copies of the same soul. Additionally, different weapons, armor, and accessories can be equipped to boost stats.
Thoughts: I'm assuming that this game was included in the book because it's the best of the GBA Castlevania games. I have to agree with that, as this game shies away from the punishing difficulty of Circle of the Moon and Harmony of Dissonance (although they're fun games too). The soul collecting system is the highlight of the game as it adds an amazing amount of variation in gameplay. It runs pretty smoothly on an emulator so I recommend trying this one out.
Objective: Prevent the X-Parasite from leaving the Biologic Space Laboratories station and infecting the universe.
How it Works: Metroid Fusion is a 2D Metroid game that follows the same formula as Super Metroid. You are free to move between rooms on the grid unless blocked by an obstacle that requires a new upgrade. Samus' basic abilities are jumping and firing, both of which receive upgrades throughout the game, such as missiles, ice beams, and infinite jumping. The iconic morph ball also reappears early on in the game.
The main difference between Metroid Fusion and earlier Metroid titles is the presence of a computerized CO, Adam, who details Samus' current objectives and marks them on the map screen.
Thoughts: Metroid Fusion is an excellent game for anyone who enjoys other 2D Metroids or the so-called "Metroidvania" games in the Castlevania series. The only irksome feature is how obscure some of the secrets are to find. Works well on an emulator, as long as you can optimize the controls for running, shooting, jumping, and aiming simultaneously.
Objective: Eat dots to grow longer but make sure not to hit your own tail!
How it Works: The gameplay is all described in the objective. You control a line (your "snake") that can turn left or right, with your tail following the same pattern. You must steer into dots that randomly spawn on the screen. When grabbed, your snake grows longer. Each version of Snake adds a different length for each dot. The game is over when you collide with either the wall or your tail.
Thoughts: I remember playing a lot of Snake programmed on my TI-83 calculator. It's an extremely simple and addicting game that's perfect for wasting time. I actually prefer it to many of the arcade games I've played out of the book.
Objective: Raz must uncover and foil a brain-stealing plot at Camp Whispering Rock in order to become a full-fledged Psychonaut.
How it Works: Psychonauts is a 3D platforming game. The basic commands are jumping, attacking, and interacting (using items, talking, opening doors, etc). Raz is also capable of several Psi powers, three of which can be equipped at a time. These powers include telekinesis, levitation, psychic blasts, and shields.
The world is organized into a main open overworld area and several smaller "mental worlds" that are explored as part of the story. Raz increases his abilities by rising in "Psi Ranks." This can be accomplished by collecting cards, 2D "figments," scavenger hunt items, and cobwebs. Ranks earn Raz new Psi abilities, ability upgrades, and health upgrades.
Thoughts: While pretty fun as a platformer, Psychonauts was clearly included in the book for its sense of humour. Essentially every detail of this game was crafted with the sole purpose of making you laugh. The real stars of Psychonauts are the writing team and the voice actors. It's available on Steam to play, so get to it.
Objective: Captain Viridian must rescue his crew members scattered throughout Dimension VVVVVV
How it Works: VVVVVV (pronounced "V six times") is another indie platformer with a unique twist: instead of jumping, you must invert gravity to navigate the rooms. The game exists in a more or less open world 20 x 20 room map with one central area and several offshoot "level" areas that contain a crew member. Each named room features traps or enemies that must be avoided in order to continue. Checkpoints are commonplace, and serve as a starting point upon death.
In addition to crew members, Captain Viridian can also collect trinkets hidden throughout the world.
Thoughts: The best feature of VVVVVV is the small asking price for the size of the game, especially compared to indie titles like Flower and Monument Valley. This game is often referred to as being very difficult. While several rooms will no doubt take multiple tries, the game is very forgiving with its checkpoints, preventing this from being a frustrating experience.
Objective: The Prince must reverse the devastating effects of the Sands of Time by reaching the Hourglass in the palace's tallest tower, all with the help of Princess Farah.
How it Works: The game is split between platforming and combat elements. When platforming, the Prince is able to run up or across walls to reach new areas. Swinging off poles and wall jumping are used quite often as well. If a mistake is made, you can rewind time (a finite number of times) using sand by holding a button.
The Prince uses a sword and dagger in combat. He can attack normally, or jump over/around enemies. Sand can be used in battle to either rewind time or freeze enemies.
Thoughts: I'm torn between the two elements of gameplay. The platforming is wonderful, especially with the sand rewind feature. Climbing through the palace is a breathtaking experience due to the fully realized environments. However, combat is repetitive and frustrating. Enemies phase in and out of existence, making it very difficult to tell how many are left to defeat. When swarmed, I found it very difficult to jump over the enemy you actually want to.
That being said, don't let the questionable combat system prevent you from enjoying this game!
Objective: Ness and friends must collect eight mystical melodies to prevent the evil Giygas from enveloping the world in hate.
How it Works: EarthBound is a turn-based RPG with a unique battle element. HP is on a rolling counter, and your character will not die unless the counter reaches 0 (thus you can be healed/finish the battle beforehand). Besides this, most abilities are standard: attack, special attacks requiring PP, items, etc.
Battles are initiated by touching an enemy sprite on the overworld screen. First strike can be gained by touching the back of the enemy, and they can do the same to you. If an enemy is greatly overpowered, the enemy will be defeated instantly.
Levelling and item equipping work the same as any other standard JRPG.
Thoughts: EarthBound is an incredibly unique game due to its modern day (for 1994) setting. With enemies like hippies and piles of vomit, there is nothing else like it. Graphically, this game is very basic (no animation during battles, just static sprites) but it makes up for it with witty dialogue and lots of music. Play this game as soon as you have a chance, whether you like RPGs or not.
Objective: Protect the world from powerful robots, human terrorists, and ancient sorcerer's as you move through various aspects of Osamu Tezuka's works.
How it Works: Astro Boy: Omega Factor contains both beat 'em up and shoot 'em up type levels. Both play very similarly, except that you cannot move backwards or melee attack in shoot 'em up levels. Astro is able to punch, kick, and fire a laser as his primary attacks. Upon successful attacks, his "EX" meter fills up, allowing him to use special attacks: a machine gun and a large laser. For movement, astro can walk normally or use a dash move (temporarily making him invincible), or use a much larger dash by spending EX.
The game features a very large number of characters hidden in the levels. By finding these characters, the Omega Factor web is filled in, and you are awarded a point that can be spend increasing skills.
Thoughts: Astro Boy is not a perfect game, but it is enjoyable. Levels can get repetitive, but the bosses are all a joy to fight. The beat 'em up levels designed with more care than the shoot 'em up levels, which are occasionally unfair. The best aspect of the game is piecing together the crazy narrative and finding all the characters from Osamu Tezuka's universe (which requires two playthroughs). Try it out, but expect some slowdown when playing on an emulator.
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