Tag Archives: Review

The Year of Zelda: Oracle of Seasons

A while back, I set myself the goal of finishing all of the Zelda games I’ve yet to play before I start the latest game in the series, The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild. Oracle of Seasons is the first one I can tick off that list.

Originally released for the Game Boy Color back in 2001, just as the ageing handheld was being superseded by the Game Boy Advance, Oracle of Seasons is an odd fish. For a start, it was the first Zelda game to be developed by an outside studio, Capcom, and confusingly, it was actually released as two games – Oracle of Seasons and Oracle of Ages. At the time, I assumed that this dual release was a way to jump on the Pokemon bandwagon, a tactic of releasing two basically identical games with a few minor differences. But that’s not the case – each game is a fully fledged, unique, standalone adventure, although there’s an overarching narrative that spans the two. Cleverly, you get a password when you complete one of them that lets you carry over your save game to the next instalment, although it doesn’t matter which order you play the games in.

Apparently, the whole thing was originally going to be THREE games, each representing an aspect of the Triforce. But the third game was cancelled, and the protracted development saw the concept undergo enormous changes – hence why the games were released so late into the GBC’s life cycle. In fact, they didn’t emerge until well after the release of the GBA, the GBC’s replacement. The Oracle games’ huge ambition and wonderful graphics are typical of late-stage software for an ageing console, as developers finally master the hardware and are able to push it to its absolute limits.

The Rod of Seasons lets you change, ahem, the season, which is key to solving puzzles.

But to start with, I wasn’t enormously enthusiastic about playing Oracle of Seasons. I recalled a few reviews from the time being a little lukewarm about the game, especially in the wake of the astonishing Ocarina of Time, so I never saw it as a ‘must-play’ title. How wrong I was.

I’ll just put this out there right now – I reckon Oracle of Seasons is better than Link’s Awakening. In fact, I’d easily class it in my top 5 Zelda games, it’s that good. It’s just packed with so many great ideas, such as a boxing kangaroo called Ricky that you can ride on to leap over holes and punch out enemies. (In fact, that bit was so fun, it’s a real shame that Link stuck to riding boring old horses in the later entries – bring back Ricky, I say.) The collectible items are also inspired, particularly the magnetic gloves, which allow you to attract or repel certain enemies and pull yourself across gaps by latching onto a metal pole.

Hey Ricky, you’re so fine, you’re so fine you blow my mind, hey Ricky!

But it’s the brilliant dungeons that really make the game. The below instalment of Boss Keys does a much better job than I could of explaining what makes these dungeons so good. They’re a joy to play through – challenging but never frustrating, with a real sense of achievement when you make it through alive. Wonderful stuff.

I’ve already started on the next game, Oracle of Ages, and judging by how much I enjoyed Oracle of Seasons, The Year of Zelda is going to be a very fun year indeed.


This article is part of The Year of Zelda, an attempt to play through all of the Zelda games I’ve yet to finish.

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Review: Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones

fire-emblem-sacred-stones-cover-art-gbaNintendo’s Virtual Console policy continues to frustrate me. Certain titles are exclusive to the Wii U or 3DS, which makes sense up to a certain point – Wii games wouldn’t really work on a handheld, for example. But why make Game Boy Advance games exclusive to Wii U? Surely the only reason is to drive sales of the ailing console, yet these games would be much better suited to playing on the 3DS. Why can’t GBA games be sold on both consoles? Why not have the option to buy the games once and download them on both platforms, like Sony offers with the PS3/PS4 and Playstation Vita?

What’s especially irritating is that Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones was previously made available on the 3DS as part of the 3DS Ambassadors programme for early adopters of the console. Yet five years down the line, these games have still yet to be made available to ‘regular’ punters. Come on Nintendo, open up the vaults to everyone, regardless of which console they own – there’s pure gold to be had in those game coffers.

And Fire Emblem: The Sacred Stones really is pure gold. I remember at the time of its release, it was criticised as essentially being a reskin of the previous title in the series, which was simply called Fire Emblem in the west. Even though the latter was the seventh game in the turn-based strategy RPG series, it was the first to be localised for western audiences, and it was an absolute cracker. I reminisced about it for 1o1 Video Games That Made My Life Slightly Better a few years ago, particularly about its unforgiving permadeath mechanic, which ended up leaving me with the thousand-yard-stare of a war general who’s seen to much. So many purple-haired youngsters sent to their deaths…

Good old Seth, what a powerhouse that man is.

Good old Seth, what a powerhouse that man is.

Actually, I never quite managed to see that game to its end – by the later levels, I’d lost so many characters that it was becoming impossible to get through the stages with my weakened band of war heroes. Sacred Stones on Wii U, on the other hand, benefits from the ‘Restore Point’ mechanic that’s added to all Virtual Console games – which essentially lets you save at any point. I’m not ashamed to admit that I abused this mechanic to the full, so by the end I still had a full crew of warriors (until the brutal final battle, that is).

I’m still a little conflicted about this: by carefully saving regularly and replaying sections if a character died, I was able to see the inter-character relationships develop across the game. But it also felt a little like cheating, and it meant I never quite experienced the highs and lows of seeing a favourite character just about scrape through to fight another day, or see a dutifully raised knight perish suddenly thanks to a silly mistake or unexpected ambush. Still, at least I finished the damn thing.

Ah, Dozla - so playful with that axe!

Ah, Dozla – so playful with that axe!

It’s clear that Intelligent Systems realised that people love seeing characters bloom and get to know each other, hence why this mechanic is hugely beefed up in the most recent games, Fire Emblem: Awakening and Fire Emblem: Fates. They also saw the good sense to add mid-level save points.

Sacred Stones isn’t quite as good as series pinnacle Awakening, but for my money the story is much better than its prequel, Fire Emblem. The pixellated graphics also have a wonderful charm to them – in many ways I prefer them to the more beefed up graphics of later entries in the series. Having said that, they look utterly shit on the big TV screen, as pixels become the size of fists and lose all their charm – I played the game using the gamepad screen instead, on which the graphics seemed much more at home.

Finishingo Sacred Stones has left me hankering for more Fire Emblem, although thankfully I still have the DS title Fire Emblem: Shadow Dragon waiting in the wings. Although again, it’s on the Wii U and not the 3DS, its natural home. Why, Nintendo, why?

Franz starts off as a bit of a weed, so it's satisfying to see him grow up into an armoured death dealer.

Franz starts off as a bit of a weed, so it’s satisfying to see him grow up into an armoured death dealer.

Hopefully all this Virtual Console nonsense will be sorted out the the Nintendo Switch, so finally we can have all of our Nintendo games in one place, as well as the option to play them at home or on the go. And while I think about it, I would love to see the big N localise the initial six games in the Fire Emblem series, which still haven’t made it to the west. Go on, Nintendo, you know you want to.

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Review: Child of Light

child_of_light_artMy first impressions of Child of Light weren’t that great. I’d realised that week that I just don’t particularly get on with 2D platformers any more, and after half an hour of jumping around I was ready to give up after “the same old platforms and puzzles reared their ugly heads”.

But I’m glad I went back to it, because it actually turns out to be a fun little game.

Of course, really it’s not a platformer at all, it’s a 2D RPG, and soon after the point at which I initially gave up I received the gift of flight in the form of tiny fairy wings. This turned out to be a literal game changer, completely removing the need for leaping about – and it made the game much more fun as a result. By drifting lazily through the levels on my tiny wings, I had more space to appreciate the real beauty of the hand-drawn artwork in that game. And it really is a stunner. “A fairy-tale storybook come to life” is the phrase at the forefront of my mind – and in fact the game presents itself as a tale of a fantasy kingdom being retold.

Also, it has the best hair animation I’ve ever seen. Your tresses float along behind you as if carried on some invisible current, an effect that even drew coos of appreciation from the normally cynical Mrs Merriweather.

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Speaking of Mrs Merriweather, she did enquire at one point why I was playing a “girl’s game”. I considered the evidence. Yes, I was controlling a princess with fairy wings. Yes, one of the members of my party was an adorably cute mouse called Robert with a tiny hunting bow. Yes, I had fabulous hair. Hmmm.

At that point I did what any red-blooded male would do under the circumstances… and berated her for her narrow-mindedness when it came to gender divisions. I am fully in touch with my feminine side, and it thinks that mouse is  SO GODDAMNED CUTE I COULD JUST EAT IT ALL UP.

Ahem.

Going back to the game, it’s not all hairstyles over substance. The turn-based battle system is pretty nifty, with a well-implemented skill tree that had me carefully considering my strategy and play style as I chose which path to go down. The battle system itself relies on a meter that shows a ‘wait phase’ and an ‘attack phase’ – you can line up attacks at the beginning of the attack phase, but if you get hit between the start and the end of the attack phase, your attack is cancelled and your character gets pushed back down to the wait phase. Of course, you can inflict the same annoyance on enemies, too. It’s certainly not a new system – I’m certain I’ve played a game that used something like this before, possibly Skies of Arcadia – but it works really well.

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One thing that doesn’t work well is the game’s insistence in presenting dialogue in tortuous rhyme. It raised a small smile at first, but then when the characters carried on speaking in rhyming couplets after the first few interactions I had the horrendous realisation that the designers intended to keep this up for the ENTIRE GAME. I wonder whether at any point, as the script writers were struggling to come up with yet another rhyme for an awkward word, they said to the person next to them: “Hey, maybe this rhyming thing was a bad idea? Maybe we should just, you know, stop?”

This was probably met with the rejoinder: “NO PHILIP! We’ve come so far, we can’t possibly stop now! I’M GOING TO SEE THIS THING THROUGH TO THE BITTER END, SO HELP ME GOD. Now, what’s a rhyme for ‘attack phase’?”

The game is also a little bit on the short side – roughly 10 hours or so. Reading online, this seems to have annoyed people who picked up the game for full price at launch, but as far as I’m concerned, the shorter the better. My precious gaming time is at a premium these days. (And it helps that I bought it on sale.)

Now if you’ll excuse me, I have some woodland creatures to level up.

Buy Child of Light on Amazon and we get a little cash. Ta!

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Talos Principle sent me into an existential Crisis

60a973cdc93f4af5db265ca3bc84890dI still distinctly remember the hours that followed walking out of the cinema after seeing “Moon”. Still struggling to come to terms with the notion of ‘created memories’, while walking along the iconic Chapel Street the friend I caught the film with started to entertain the notion of teleportation, referring to an article he’d read recently. And while it was a stunning day in Melbourne – the sun searing on the asphalt as Melbourne’s deeply entrenched culture freely flowing all around – I was too busy contemplating “it all” to take much notice. And by “it all” I really mean it. He may not have known it at the time, but this innocuous conversation between two friends on a high after watching a bloody good film, has haunted me in the years since.

It started off innocently enough.

“So teleportation is possible, but with one pretty significant caveat” he said.

I expected it to be something small. You know, a sort of ‘technicality’ that would render it a rather pointless technology, even if it were feasible.

“What, I can’t choose where or when I teleport to?” I snickered, gesturing down a side street that got us to his house quicker.

He laughed off my dismissive response, “No. I’m pretty sure it’s okay between fixed points in time and space. It’s just that it’d kill you”

“Right” I laughed, “so it doesn’t really work at all”.

“Yeah it does. Your genetic makeup and all your memories are transported to the destination. It’s just that it is a carbon copy of the ones that left. You are at the destination – or at least everything you are. But the you you knew isn’t you – if you catch my drift” he explained, obviously feeling a bit more comfortable with the subject that I was, “would you do it?”

“I’m not sure mate, I mean it’s not really me, is it?” I told him, still not really quite sure what to make of the situation.

“But you wouldn’t know,” he asserted, “the you at the other end is for all intents and purposes, you. It’s still you, and it thinks it is the you that transported from the other end” he asserted.

“But it’s not. It’s not me at all. In fact I no longer exist.”

I had to think hard about what I’d just said and so the rest of the walk back to his apartment was a decidedly silent and somber affair.  The idea that I could exist – or rather a carbon copy of me with my memories and my genetic make up – without it necessarily being “me” twisted my mind in impossible ways. Like Moon’s thematic undertone, he had twisted my ideas of what being a conscious human being with memories meant, and whether “me” as I know it is unique to any other clone of me that could theoretically exist. It was fair to say I was probably the most confused I’ve ever been.

My recent play through of The Talos Principle – where you play a cyborg avatar tasked with solving puzzles in eden-like worlds – gave me very similar confused feelings that verged on an existential crisis. Being forced to question my own views on consciousness and humanity wasn’t something I was prepared for necessarily, rather expecting that the game’s puzzles would test my brain in a more lateral way. And there were times where the game’s ‘chambers’ – somewhat reminiscent of Portal’s setup – did stretch the grey-matter to find a solution. After all organising blocks, light beams, fans and ‘ghosts’ in a series of increasingly difficult and multi-staged puzzles certainly isn’t for the dedicated. But it was the narrative that drove the game forward – namely my interactions with seemingly sentient computer terminals called “Milton”, the game’s equivalent of “GERTY” – that at times kept me frozen on the spot in search of answers. Answers that I ultimately cannot answer.

While the puzzles are what you strive to complete, Milton is your main interface with the game’s world, the key catalyst for your inevitable distrust of voice-in-the-sky Eloheim, and a database of all of the world’s knowledge and carrier of the world’s story. It is through accessing these terminals between puzzles that you discover most of what the game’s world is as you try and discover what the purpose of this world is.

It is no happy accident that these conversations Milton also happened to be the part that forced me not only to think philosophically about not just the game’s world but also our world more broadly. Through positing questions and putting forward ideas, Milton effectively shapes your view of that world, and puts forth a reasonable set of assumptions on which to base your own opinions. In the beginning Milton was happy to hold my hand through the world and tell me what to believe.

And so at the start, I felt utterly comfortable with the game’s surface-level treatment of philosophy.   The fact that Dr. Ian Malcolm from Jurassic Park is as close as I’ve ever come to any sort of philosophical thinking really meant that anything deeper than surface level philosophical questions were a bit beyond my comprehension.  “Life finds a way” was about as deep as I’ve ever needed to delve and so an early reference to Jeff Goldblum’s famous line lulled me into a (false) sense of security.

TalosPrinciple(3)

But as I went on, I was absolutely outclassed and outmuscled by the game’s narrative approach to positing philosophical questions. Upon being asked by Milton a series of questions about what it is to be ‘human’ it was fast to point out the inconsistencies in my responses:

TalosPrinciple(1)

It may have been all smoke and mirrors, but being lectured on humanity by a computer within a computer was unsettling, particularly when my views on it seemed to be so inconsistent. If it was all a ruse, it was a bloody good one, and it had successfully made me question by core belief system and cognitive thought processes. But things only go more complex from there and it didn’t hold back on the philosophy, remembering everything I’d answered to that point and probing more deeply as the game went on, in a way that was more informed than a logic test:

TalosPrinciple(2)

Knowing that I was empathising with a cyborg avatar to convince an artificial intelligence of its humanity automatically put into question my own beliefs about what it mean to be a ‘conscious human’ – but the fact that Milton was never shy to point out the incongruous nature of my responses to its questions made me start to question whether I may not be as consistent and rational as I thought. Not to mention whether I had a thoroughly anthropocentric view of consciousness.  After all, what really is the difference between me and a frog? Touche, Milton.

Then he started to question my ‘purpose’ in the game world, and in fact, whether there was anything beyond the world. The “god-like” Eloheim had promised me everlasting life if I were to follow his instructions, but Milton was calling into question my faithfulness to the voice in the sky. It was an obvious question – but one that I usually take fore granted in video games – but could it really be the case that the sole purpose of the world and indeed me was to solve the challenges the game throws at me. It was as much a subtle commentary on game design as it was on the wider world, but one that distilled neatly into one simple question: what is the purpose of this world?

The Talos Principle asked questions I’d never considered before and I wasn’t prepared for them. These questions haunted me vividly for the days while – and the weeks after – playing the game. Like a broken record they’d repeat in my brain: “what is my purpose?” and “why is this world this way”?  And each day I’d be no closer to an answer than I was the day or week before. The game may have been fantastical fiction, but its questions were equally relevant in my own context.

Confusion was beginning to spiral into an existential crisis of sorts – one brought on by a video game no less. If it was the intention of developers to get players thinking more deeply, the Talos Principle had done its job.

But while facing a faux existential crisis is obviously not something to brush off, I find some comfort being forced to question ‘what it is to be human’ or ‘what it is to be “me”‘.  If it has felt a bit like I’m rambling incoherently, it’s because I am, because none of it makes any sense to me.  It wasn’t that I didn’t have the wherewithal to overcome its many hurdles and crash my way through to the credits of the game – quite the contrary – I finished up playing the game practically over the course of a weekend. It was that a video game had asked me questions that I’d never felt compelled to answer before.  And that I know in my heart of hearts I’ll likely never be able to answer.

In the same way that Moon is a great piece of filmmaking that gives me goosebumps whenever I watch it, The Talos Principle is the sort of game experience I’m not sure I’ll ever leave behind.  Not just because of its ‘workmanlike’ approach to how it’s puzzles are designed in such a way that they gradually build your understanding of how you can solve them, but because it forced me to actually think about the world in a more deep and meaningful way. I am not a religious man, but having an answer to these sorts of existential queries must be a big appeal for people, even if it does seem outlandish at times. The fact that the world all takes place in some sort of an artificial construct even seems like a logical conclusion the more you think about it – an idea that Elon Musk seems to champion while he’s not saving the world from itself from somewhere in California.

If nothing else, The Talos Principle opened my eyes to the importance of the theory of knowledge, in broadly understanding the world. I have a friend at work who likes to tease me about solipsism and the fact that I can’t prove that he or anything else for that matter exists. I usually laugh it off in the same way I’d laugh at trying to quantify the size of the universe. But The Talos Principle made that line of questioning make sense, and I’m grateful for that.

Moon_Film

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From The Armchair: Batman Revisited

ArmchairAs I said a while back, I’ve been getting back into Batman recently. I’ve read a few more Batbooks since that last post, and they’ve reflected the general trend for Batman stories veering wildly between genius and utter rubbish, with the tales being told in the main ‘canon’ Batman storyline generally being overstuffed and hamstrung by the need for continuity.

I read the second volume of Gotham City Sirens, for example, which works off the brilliant premise of taking three iconic females – Catwoman, Poison Ivy and Harley Quinn – and giving them some time in the spotlight. I particularly liked the idea that they’re trying to wean Harley off her obsession with the Joker, and I liked the development of her character in the way she uses her background in psychiatry to manipulate people. But the concept gets diluted because it all has to be woven into the main storyline, with more and more plot threads and characters thrown in for the hell of it. And it all ends up being so inconsequential – at three separate points, one of the ladies vows to kill one of the other characters, but of course they don’t because it’s a comic book and main characters never (or almost never) get killed in comic books. So you end up just nodding and smiling knowingly whenever such vendettas are proclaimed. “Oh yeah, you’re going to kill so-and-so are you? Well let’s just see how that turns out. Oh, it turns out you didn’t kill them! Quelle surprise.” Oh, and the potentially interesting plot line of Poison Ivy being romantically attracted to Harley gets thrown in and then never returned to, which seems like a wasted opportunity for character development.

gotham city sirens

Batman: Harvest Breed, on the other hand, showed more potential in the sense that as a one-shot it could escape the canon and tell a standalone story. Unfortunately, it was awful. It quickly descended into far-fetched tales of witchcraft and a portal to Hell being opened in Gotham, and it really didn’t feel like a Batman story at all.

Batman: Absolution, however, was utterly brilliant. It goes to show that when done well, mixing Batman and religion really works wonderfully, and it weaved a gripping tale where Batman is forced to question his own motives when a terrorist seeks redemption through good deeds as a missionary. The stand-out sequence has to be the main antagonist pouring out a tale of childhood woe, interspersed with cuts to Batman’s world-weary, uncaring thoughts. This Batman is ruthless, unbending, a terrifying force of nature.

I loved the painterly artwork of Batman: Absolution.

I loved the painterly artwork of Batman: Absolution.

Batman: Holy Terror, the opening tale of the Batman: Elseworlds collection, also goes to show how religion can work well in the Batman universe, set as it is in an alternative United States ruled by a fundamental Christian sect. Bruce Wayne emerges as a vicar by day, vigilante by night, and its a tale that comes across as genuinely intriguing and often shocking. Sadly, the other stories in the volume that I’ve read so far can’t measure up to the brilliance of the opener. Batman as the Lone Ranger is as rubbish as that concept sounds. And Robin 3000, although fairly interesting, owes a huge debt to The Incal, next to which it pales into insignificance.

Vicar by day, vigilante by night.

Vicar by day, vigilante by night.

A pleasant surprise came in the form of Batman: Knight and Squire. This British version of Batman had the potential to be utterly naff, but the writers lovingly embraced the cheesiness of the concept, telling a tale that rarely took itself seriously but also had some surprising moments of pathos. The author lovingly acknowledged inspirations from classic British comics, and cleverly avoided Knight coming across as a pale imitation of the American Batman by openly acknowledging that Knight, and the rest of the cast, are pale imitations of their American counterparts – which ends up being a central tenet of the storyline. It’s clever, postmodern, and above all very, very funny.

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If you have any more recommendations for Batbooks, I’d love to hear them!

Buy Gotham City Sirens Volume 1 on Amazon.
Buy Batman: Harvest Breed on Amazon.
Buy Batman: Absolution on Amazon.
Buy Elseworlds Batman on Amazon.
Buy Batman Knight And Squire on Amazon.
Buy The Incal on Amazon.

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Same as it ever was.

13178858_10154120255997416_9038126142346035337_nI find it comforting just how quickly I fell back into old habits playing id Software’s rebooted and somewhat reimagined Doom. Innovation to video game mechanics – the nuts and bolts that make the things tick – move at such a rate of knots that it’s easy to forget to often simple joys of what came before.  Doom in this case is what came before, and on spending a good chunk of time with the new game, I’m starting to wonder why we left it behind.

Doom is quite simply the same as it ever was. It’s prettier sure, and there are some more modern day trappings sprinkled across the top, but Doom is now as Doom was then. It’s impossible to know what would or could’ve been, but I can’t help but feel that if the Masters of Doom had the latest technology in the 90’s, this is what they would’ve unleashed upon an unwitting society.  It’s fast, it’s violent, it’s frenetic, and it’s fantastic.  From the moment the first zombie-soldier shuffles on to the screen, it feels just as it did more than 20 years ago. The masters may have changed, but Doom is back in a big way.

I’m amazed at how much I missed the simplicity of the series – where the action more often than not reigned supreme. Getting from A-B is a pleasure:  the enemies are fun to fight, the weapons are distinct and memorable, and the top-notch level design is maze design at its best. Doom isn’t about telling a grand story or about engaging the player on an emotional level (there is a premise, but I hesitate to call it a story), it’s about tapping into our primal instinct to survive. Minute to minute the pace of the game requires a “don’t think, just shoot” mentality, and as levels came and levels passed, after a few hours of play I realised that Doom is exactly what I wanted from video games.

It was at that point I realised that the game at no point asked me to reload my weapons. Thousands upon thousands of rounds were spent on hundreds and hundreds of enemies and not once had I stopped and reloaded in preparation for the next encounter. I had felt overwhelmed and I had felt like the odds were stacked against me, but not once did I feel like the mechanics of the game were imposing that sense of dread.  Doom is a game that respects your time and respects your ability, and in that sense despite being filled with nostalgia for those of us that were around in the 90’s, is the most modern video game I think I’ve played, lest I call it ‘post-modern’ in its design.

Doom doesn’t feel like it’s striving to be anything more a bloody good video game. . The modern video game has conditioned us all to look for an explicit progression path, dangling the carrot of a new enemy or a new perk in front of our eyes at every corner. It teaches us to look forward to the next thing rather than enjoy the here and now. Doom doesn’t pander to modern tastes, rather serves as a keen reminder that videogames are fundamentally about the connection between our hands and our eyes. It isn’t deep, it isn’t smart, and it doesn’t feel the need to introduce new mechanics or new enemies to players right to the death. But it knows that what it has ‘in the moment’ is enough to keep you wading through the giblets and playing right through the very end. Doom knows its a video game and it is better for it.

(Doom isn’t the first reboot of a 90’s id Software classic I rather enjoyed; I found Wolfenstein: The New Order  quite excellent albeit for different reasons)

DOOM_Mars

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Review: Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros.

Mario-Luigi-Paper-Jam-BrosDoes anyone have idea why they changed the name of this game in Europe and Australia? It was simply called Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam in the United States, which is a great little pun considering it features the characters from the Paper Mario universe causing chaos in the Mario & Luigi world. But Mario & Luigi: Paper Jam Bros.? Does that even make sense?

They did the same thing with the previous game in the Mario & Luigi series, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, which became Mario & Luigi: Dream Team Bros. when it crossed the pond (and flew down under). Again, a seemingly pointless and nonsensical name change. I can only imagine it was done to avoid some sort of copyright infringement, but I can’t think what that infringement could have been.

Anyway, name gripes aside, I’ve been looking forward to playing through Paper Jam, which is only the second Mario & Luigi title I’ve played after the Game Boy Advance original, and – shock horror – the first game featuring Paper Mario that I’ve ever played. The SNES game Paper Mario: The Thousand Year Door has shamefully been on my ‘to do’ list for about a decade now – but enough about gaming backlogs, I feel like I’ve done them to death recently.

My first impressions of Paper Jam were overwhelmingly positive – the humour I remember from GBA Mario & Luigi is very much intact, and the addition of Paper Mario really elevates the gameplay, introducing more mechanics that involve the three characters together, such as trio attacks and various origami-inspired trio moves. It’s utterly charming, and I had a big grin plastered across my face for the first hour or two.

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But after that initial charm spike, the graph of the gameplay embarks on a long, steady, downward slope as repetition and ultimately boredom set in. Ploughing through the various enemies in the game involves using the same attacks again and again and again, and by the end I was desperate for some more variety or for more interesting twists in the story. And speaking of the story, despite the addition of paper antagonists, everything pretty much unfurls exactly as you’d expect it to, as it has done in countless previous Mario titles. Bowser > Princess kidnap > Castle assault > You know the rest.

The trio attacks and bros. attacks can be a lot of fun, involving various intricate button presses, but they also take ages – and by the end I found myself shying away from using them for normal enemies because I knew they would take so long to execute. You spend most of the game with the same handful of attacks, too, with the last few seemingly becoming available in a flurry towards the end. Unfortunately, some are way easier and more powerful than others, so I found myself sticking with the same old attacks again and again while others barely got used.

By the end, I was actively avoiding enemies because I was just so sick of going through the same old battle animations. Even worse is the fact that each area tends to be filled with the same type of enemy, so you can find yourself fighting something like ten Hammer Bros. in a row and doing the same thing each time. But the bosses are a different matter – they actually tended to be a lot more fun to fight because they could take you down so easily, which meant a degree of tactics was required rather than simply repeating the same old thing. Having fewer regular baddies and more bosses would have been a big improvement, as would increasing the depth and variety of the regular fights.

It’s all a bit too linear as well. You end up going through each area twice as part of the story, but there’s little of that excitement you get from Metroidvania-type games, where exploring previous areas unlocks all sorts of goodies. A few experience-point-adding beans can be dug up in previous levels once you’ve found the drill move, but they’re hardly worth the bother. If only the designers had hidden more substantial things throughout the levels that would make exploration more worthwhile – perhaps they could have added hidden costumes for the main characters, like the fun ones in Zelda: Triforce Heroes, or maybe there could have been many more trio and bros. attacks that were hidden rather than simply handed out as the story progressed.

And then there’s the amiibo support, which actually kind of breaks the game. Tapping a Mario-series amiibo lets you use a unique and often very powerful move in battle, such as completely restoring your HP. What’s more, this doesn’t actually count as a move in the turn-based gameplay, and you can tap as many amiibos as you like during a battle, as long as you don’t tap the same one twice. All this means that an already easy game is made even easier.

Paper Jam is far from being a bad game, but after it’s initial promise it ends up running out of ideas and becoming distinctly average. I loved the start, but by the very end I actually felt relieved it was all over. Never a good sign.

I forgot to mention the papercraft battles. Well, they're, ahem, pretty lightweight (pun intended).

I forgot to mention the papercraft battles. Well, they’re, ahem, pretty lightweight (pun intended).

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