Wonderful Wii Wiirdness 2: The Wiiquel

Around this time last year I wrote a blog about a quintet of Wii games that, I felt, exemplified the Wii's occasional diversions into the inexplicable and unexplainable: Games that seem to defy any cut-and-dry genre definition or elevator pitch premise. People point to Nintendo's first-party staples, such as the Zeldas and the Marios and the Metroids and the Kirbys, as the chief reason to purchase any given new Nintendo system (and they're generally correct) but neglect to mention the innumerable eccentric titles from various tiny and obscure studios that really help to define the character and charm of the Japanese giant's consoles more comprehensively than their once-or-twice-per-console big names are capable of doing.

In fact, I made this pie chart last time that cogently points out how prevalent that sort of game is in the Wii's library:

I just wanted to wheel out that FFT joke again.
I just wanted to wheel out that FFT joke again.

So if all this pre-amble hadn't clued you in, I've got another five games I want to showcase as the sun continues to set on Nintendo's most profitable if most contentious console since... I dunno, didn't the Game Boy Advance do rather well? I should go look at some of those figures. While I'm doing that, here's some Wonderful Wii Wiirdness for you all to enjoy:

Fragile Dreams: Farewell Ruins of the Moon

"Fragile Dreams" is a reference to a line from a Keats poem. I know that because of that Christian Bale Matrix gun-kata movie. Who says I'm not cultured? Besides my parole officer?

The full title of this game alone should give you some idea of how weird I'm prepared to go with this blog. Fragile Dreams, from the studio that brought you that Chopin's saccharine TB fever nightmare JRPG, is a gentle and emotional story about the end of the world and all its corpses, ghosts, broken down ruins of a once-bustling civilization, robots that think they're human and innumerable cats that love to be played with. Seto, the protagonist and only immediately evident survivor of some initially unexplained catastrophe that robbed the entirety of mankind of their existence, pokes around a series of ruins in and around the borders of Tokyo. In the process of exploring underground malls, sewers, theme parks, hotels, and, yes, even a hospital of sorts, he encounters a series of oddball characters and cries a lot. I mean, his friends keep dying on him and all, but he sure gets melancholic over the slightest things. Adding to this oppressive air of depression are the memory items: Random objects Seto can find that will reveal to him the thoughts and conversations of diverse members of the human populace shortly before they succumbed to their collective apocalyptic fate. Because this is the sort of game this is, every human being was apparently aware of their inevitable demise and spent plenty of time pondering their regrets and sorrows.

Yet it's also a super bright and cheery game, as perhaps might be anticipated from a tri-Crescendo joint, with every character looking like an overdressed mannequin from a Kyary Pamyu Pamyu music video, being all amazed at colorful marbles and blithely skipping through scenes of abject desolation. This is especially true of the waifish waifu Ren, the enigmatic silver-haired girl that Seto spends most of the game searching for after an early meet-cute. Even some of the ghosts are adorable, like the early jellyfish enemies with smiley faces. The crying Sadako-esque female ghosts with needles in their backs that open the skin to reveal giant, bloodshot eyes are perhaps less cute, but you can't begrudge (so to speak) the developers for wanting a multifarious bestiary. More like multinefarious, am I right? All right, fine.

Anyway, a slightly more in-depth exploration of the game can be found with this user review I wrote. If you've ever wanted to know more about that weird chicken head guy keeps posting in his blogs, go check it out. I knocked it down to three stars for its pacing problems, but if you're a patient sort and really enjoy death and sadness and apocalyptic despair, I'd recommend it.

Deadly Creatures

The snake in this game is a really persistent asshole. Until you blow it up, that is.
The snake in this game is a really persistent asshole. Until you blow it up, that is.

Deadly Creatures is one of those games that has perhaps justifiably hidden under a rock since its release. Giant Bomb filmed a memorable Quick Look of the game which had plenty of fun at the expense of Jeff's arachnophobia (which any arachno-expert will tell you includes a fear of spiders and a fear of scorpions) but only the merest hint of the game's odd sensibilities. There are, for extended periods, sequences where the player spider is holding onto a wall and watching the world from a horizontal perspective. Vertiginous doesn't even begin to describe the game and its disorientating viewpoints. This alone makes it a curio, beyond simply "hey the player controls a bunch of bugs fighting other bugs", which might as well have been the byline to some deservedly long-forgotten N64 fighter. But fighting there is and it actually has its own in-depth system of combos, ducking and weaving enemy attacks and timing-based counters and Wii-Remote gesturing finishing moves. There's giant terrors to avoid, or at least that's what a rattlesnake and a Gila monster would appear to be to a three-inch-high scorpion, and a whole oddly addicting side-quest of eating every insect grub you can find, even if it involves crawling into tight enclosed spaces (like Jeff's shoes) or exploring the ceilings like 1980s Lionel Richie was wont to do when he wasn't being horrified by clay homunculi of himself.

The presentation will, at times, leave a lot to be desired. There are two human characters that the game occasionally announces the presence of by indirect means such as their booming voices and loud stomping, rather than you actually catching many glimpses of them - it initially feels like a clever Cloverfield reversal, where it stays its hand for as long as possible with revealing the largest of the antagonists you'll face, but you'll wonder just how deliberate that decision was when you finally do see them during a climactic battle with one of their crotches: It turns out they don't look so great, even with the Wii's limited means. But since most of the game involves fighting insects (which seem quite well-realised, down to their insect-like motions, which was one of the many things that unnerved Jeff in that Quick Look) and trotting around cool environments full of discarded trash and knick-knacks made to seem much larger to a humble bug, it's more or less effective at what it tries to do. Perhaps the weirdest part of all this is that the two humans are voiced by Dennis Hopper (his penultimate role, it would turn out) and Billy Bob Thornton and are embroiled in an entirely ancillary plot about betraying each other over a pile of found money, which has little bearing on the small-scale missions of the two playable characters, who just seem to want to kill each other for the heck of it. I guess you could draw parallels between their story and yours, but it's a stretch.

It's an interesting game, all told. Hell, it wouldn't be on this list if it wasn't. Give it a try if you aren't grossed out by creepy crawlies.

A Boy and His Blob

If you decide to buy this game, don't confuse it with
If you decide to buy this game, don't confuse it with "2 Boys, 1 Blob". That's... something else entirely.

A Boy and His Blob is from the increasingly more renowned WayForward Technologies - developers of the recent Adventure Time game, Aliens: Infestation, that Double Dragon thing and the Shantae games - who have come a long way from their halcyon days of creating forgettable (and occasionally regrettable) license games. A Boy and His Blob was one of their early efforts that demonstrated the type of creative aspirations they had beyond dropping SpongeBob into another wacky adventure involving collectibles and jumping over spikes. Clearly inspired by the David Crane (inventor of Pitfall, lest we forget) NES cult classic of the same name, Boy and His Blob is a platformer-slash-puzzle game in which the player has to use a selection of jellybeans to transform his amorphous companion into shapes necessary to move past a series of obstacles, traps and enemies. The game begins gently enough, explicating on the various jellybeans and their effects in a breezy first world of ten mostly tutorial-based stages. The second world and beyond is where the game chooses to take the training wheels off and replace them with jet engines, requiring some precise jellybean action and a superlative control over the non-shapeshifting Boy as the duo parachute and trampoline through the worst the pleasant, hand-drawn world has to offer.

Actually, watching the footage of Ni No Kuni reminded me of this game a great deal, and not just because both feature a young boy, a tiny magical creature and some exquisite art direction. The atmosphere of both games seems geared towards a younger audience, but without compromising an older audience who is perhaps a little younger at heart. It's not afraid to get scary, or difficult, or thought-provoking, since the respective development studios responsible have had enough experience with writing for children and know not to look down on their ability to comprehend or enjoy slightly more challenging material. They're both games I was initially excited to get into, but it'll probably be the case that I will play through both years after their release (Ni No Kuni seems a bit pricey right now).

Any game based on a 20-year old concept is going to be a little odd, and that aspect is exacerbated further if that 20-year-old concept was weird to begin with, but there's a lot to recommend here. I wrote a little more about it back with this blog about shapeshifters, so go take a gander at that (and its Quick Look) to see if it's something you'd be into. As with WayForward's other recent platformers, it's a bright and colorful game that certainly doesn't pull any punches in spite of its easygoing demeanor.

Disaster: Day of Crisis

Earthquakes? Volcanos? No, a true disaster is when a Wii game comes out in Europe but not the States. Shocking, I know.
Earthquakes? Volcanos? No, a true disaster is when a Wii game comes out in Europe but not the States. Shocking, I know.

I feel a little bad adding this to the list, since it's currently the only game on here that doesn't seem to be receiving a US release. I suppose I could buy the Fatal Frame 2 remake and add that here too, but why be even more of a jerk? So I'll just include it in case the Operation Rainfall co-ordinators, still pumped up from their recent successes, decide to delve back into the Wii's back catalog for more Europe and Japan exclusives to champion. As I'll explain in a minute, it might be worth the struggle.

Disaster: Day of Crisis comes from a long line of natural disaster-based survival action games from Japan, something they unfortunately lost their taste for after the tsunami and Fukushima Nuclear Crisis a couple years back. It's a shame, because it's a sub-genre that has a few ideas that you don't often see in the more established genres we have over here. So while not exactly as genre-defying as the other games on this list, it belongs to a genre we have very little exposure with beyond other similarly cultish games like Raw Danger and Disaster Report.

Day of Crisis is, well, sort of like a mini-game collection combined with a light gun shooter. Sounds like the two most over-abused shovelware Wii game genres meshed together, but it works better than it sounds. Well, at least some of the time. Therefore, it's safe to say the core draw for this game is its completely ludicrous plot and movie presentation: It plays like a trite Roland Emmerich disaster movie crossed with the dumbest and most explodiest Michael Bay action fare. The game focuses on ex-Rescue Team and ex-Marine depressed layabout Ray who quit after dropping his best friend into a volcano (oh hey there Cliffhanger), called back into service to stop a disgruntled but noble-intentioned armed forces bigwig from detonating a weapon of mass destruction over a major city (oh hey there The Rock) all the while avoiding - in this order - an earthquake, a fire tornado, a tsunami, a volcano, a massive flood and a potential nuclear explosion. As all this is happening around him, he has to foil an entire legion's worth of mercenary troops including their helicopters, tanks and what appears to be a Metal Gear. An imminent meteor strike is even hinted for the next game, though to be fair there's really nowhere left they could take a sequel. Wouldn't be surprised if the Four Horsemen showed up. It's not like Vigil's using them (too soon? Yeah, sorry).

It's perhaps not worth tracking this game down, considering it has more than a couple of faults of which its really awesomely farfetched movie aspirations can only absolve so much. I wrote a bit more about it in this review I did (and boy I sure am throwing a lot of links around) so if any further elaboration is desired, go clicky. Maybe just wait for Operation Rainfall's more outspoken proponents to set up a similar Operation Debrisfall and see if it bears fruit?

Pandora's Tower

I also like that this is the only Wii game here with a black case. (Though apparently all
I also like that this is the only Wii game here with a black case. (Though apparently all "mature themed" games have black cases in Japan).

Talking of Operation Rainfall, perhaps it's time to take a close look at the third and final game of that campaign to earn its North American release: Pandora's Tower. What little people seem to know about this game is that A) you feed a poor girl monster meat (not a euphemism) and B) it's not as good as the other two Operation Rainfall games.

That perhaps isn't quite fair since it feels completely detached from those two. I mean, sure, it does have a blond, ruffle-haired protagonist pining for a love interest just beyond his reach, but Pandora's Tower is more like a 3D Castlevania or a Zelda, in that each chapter of the game focuses on a single tower-like dungeon with a boss at the top. The goal is invariably to find a way to reach that boss, kill it and take its flesh back to the deuteragonist to dispel her curse. In a Majora-esque twist, this curse will continue to work its fatal magics for as long as you're dungeoneering in the towers, adding something of a ticking clock to these jaunts into monster-infested territories. While this time limit is fairly generous - a hour in real time roughly speaking, about the same time it takes for Majora's Mask three-day march towards certain moony doom - the player is beholden to make the occasional return trip every now and again to jam some raw, gooey Steak monstartare down that poor girl's gullet so she doesn't have to suffer the painful intermediate effects of her curse which involve slowly turning her into some sort of purple tentacle monster. The quality of the ending is apparently (I say that because I'm not quite there yet) based on how much you've bothered to grow the affinity between the two main characters, which is increased with gifts, talking to her about her problems (WOMEN AM I RIGHT) and, oh yeah, not letting her turn into a hideous monster lady. That really puts her in a foul mood for whatever reason.

As much as this back-and-forth balancing act sounds like a pain, the game is carefully crafted to make it far less so. As towers are generally a vertical affair, the player can find ways to knock down ladders and make short-cuts wherever they go, and their first concern with any given tower is to remove the chains barring the boss's door which stay gone once those chains are destroyed. So like Majora's Mask, any progress you make in a dungeon is likely to carry over onto your subsequent visit, lessening any annoying incidents of having to repeat everything you just did. Likewise, the game throws even more bones at you by replenishing all the breakable items and a few of the environmental treasures lying about the place thereby creating a sort of Roguelike atmosphere, implementing some useful crafting and upgrading mechanics and including a handy (if dubious) shopkeeper back at home base to sell junk to that'll ensure that there's always a means to become stronger and better equipped if you're struggling with any given dungeon or boss.

I'll have more (I didn't even cover the cool mechanics of the primary chain weapon) when I review it next week but here's the skinny: It's not a perfect game by any stretch - I'll agree with the dissenters that it's easily the worst of the three Operation Rainfall games, though I say this as someone who adored The Last Story and Xenoblade Chronicles - but it's as interesting and nuanced as any of the Wii's best indefinable games. Another five of which I've hopefully convinced a few of you to try out with this 'ere verbose screed what you just peeped. To paraphrase site fixture

Pandora's Tower

As close as they are, you have to expect some passive-aggressiveness after those damn towers.
As close as they are, you have to expect some passive-aggressiveness after those damn towers.