Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Review)

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Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze
Released on the Wii U, February 21, 2014, by Retro Studios, co-developed with Monster Games for Nintendo 
Retail: $49.99
Wii U Game Reviews Score: 9.5/10

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It's been a while since I've posted a review, but that's only because I've been...well, I don't feel like talking about it. Let's talk about Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. 

If you haven't played a Donkey Kong Country game before, I'll give you a brief summation. Donkey Kong Country games are platformers that generally (but not always) star the titular ape, as he traverses detailed and difficult 2-D terrain (except in one case, where he traversed a 3-D one), generally in a search of his stolen banana horde, or a family member, or in the case of that 3-D one I mentioned in the parenthetical, approximately 78,000 random items that serve no other purpose than to allow Donkey Kong and his brethren to search for another 78,000 purposeless items (and even that game has its charms).
Did I mention brethren? Yes, I did, the word is obviously in the previous sentence, but common transitions in the English language are veritably lazy. Anyway, Donkey Kong has a bunch of ape buddies and cousins and whatnot, and they generally come along for the ride, as well. Clear enough?
Hey, I Ask the Questions Around Here, Reviewer Guy!
Yes, that's true, other person who is actually me in the guise of you, a fictional character who makes questions and comments to smoothly move the reviews along, because if a transition isn't lazy, it's a gimmick. You do ask the questions.

Darn Tootin'. So What Makes Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze Any Different From All Those Other Games You Just Mentioned?
Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is the sixth game in the Donkey Kong Country series, the first (and perhaps only) Donkey Kong Country game for the Wii U, and the first rendered in high-definition, which means it looks great on your big screen TV. Actually, it looks great in general.

What Do You Mean, It Looks Great?
I mean, the graphics are translated by your eyeballs as beautiful moving and stagnant images. 
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The Donkey Kong Country games have always been known for excellent visuals, and at the least, have pushed their respective system's hardware to the limit. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze sets a new high-water mark for the series. The Wii U may not have the graphical capabilities of the PS4 or XBox One, but it is still powerful enough to please the eye. Retro Studios does an excellent job of utilizing the Wii U's capabilities, working within its limitations in a graphical style that gives the impression that the Wii U has no limitations at all. Several things stand out:
Are You About to Make a List?
You bet your bottom banana...er...
1. Donkey Kong's fur. It reminds me of watching Monster's Inc. in theaters and marveling at a breeze rippling through Sully the monster's life-like fur for the first time. 14 years removed from that experience, I feel the same way watching Donkey Kong leap around the screen. 
2. Layering. 2-D games can in some ways stimulate the imagination more than their 3-D counterparts. A good 2-D game background is like a living, interactive book. The 2-D game perspective peaked in the mid-90's during the 16-bit generation of the Super Nintendo and Sega Genesis. Think about the scary pastures and bony horses in Castlevania IV's early levels, conjuring their own terrifying, imagined back-stories. How about the colorful, stone-marked hills of Super Mario World 2: Yoshi's Island? How did those stones get there? What would it be like to visit them? How about the mountains and valleys in the background of Chrono Trigger's higher elevations, raising the possibility that somewhere out there, another group is having their own adventure? Even the simple view of vast forests from the top of Death Mountain in The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past conjures thoughts of possible journeys. 
The Donkey Kong Country series' 2-D entries have always featured excellent background work, but Tropical Freeze uses the Wii U's graphical power to take this element to an entirely new level. Tropical Freeze's backgrounds feature a stunning amount of depth, like waterfalls cascading over rocks in the foreground, vast grasslands stretching in the background as far as the eye can see, and all variety of characters and enemies off in the distance...doing stuff.
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Doing Stuff? What Do You Mean, Doing Stuff?
Well, here's an example. One particular level, set in a lakeside village, features a pair of penguins in the background, juggling fish into baskets. You cannot attack them, and they cannot attack you. They are simply in the background. When you pass by, one of the penguins gets distracted, his buddy doesn't stop tossing fish...and hilarity ensues. This moment only occurs at this one point, on this one level in the game. Tropical Freeze is full of these unique, singular moments, all of which the player can miss if they are not paying attention. These moments don't affect gameplay, but they make the cartoon world of Tropical Freeze seem real and lived in.
3. This is the most important aspect, and what really sets Tropical Freeze's visuals apart from the majority of today's games, especially major studio fare: color. 
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So many games this last decade have settled for a drab color palette. Maybe this current crop of game developers are aliens from a planet where a rainbow consists of blue, dark gray, gray, light gray, lighter gray, tan. While Tropical Freeze's developers' programming skills are *snort*snort*snort*"out of this world"*snort*snort*snort, the game creators are also well-acquainted with the full-color spectrum of planet Earth. 
So what we have here are a crew of visually creative developers, who know full well both the limitations and strengths of the Wii U's graphics chip, and understand how to make the best of the situation. 
I like looking at this game.
That's Great, But Looks Aren't Everything, and You're Probably Some Shallow Jerk Because this Is the Internet and Everyone Is Mean. Do You Actually Like Playing this Game?
First, your comments are getting a bit long, aren't they? I'm supposed to be the rambler, not you! Second, I don't like playing this game. I love playing this game. Side-scrolling platformers have undergone a bit of a renaissance since the independent eStore game boom of the last several years. I guess 2-D games are easier to make, and who would have guessed, people actually like to play them! Turns out people like me enjoyed playing all those old NES and SNES Mario and Donkey Kong games for a reason. 
What's the Reason? Is It the Same Reason I Like to Curse Out All My Buddies Through a Goofy-Looking Headset While I Play Call of Duty 78: Ghost Wars of the Dead Plains?
I'm sure that's a great way to get out all your hormonal rage, and help you deal with the fact that you don't have the guts to ask out Emma Whatsherface to Homecoming, but it's also actually possible to feel joy while playing video games, as well.
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Joy? Is that Like What I Feel When My Dad Yells At Me for Forgetting to Take Out the Trash, and then I Play Gears of War and Shoot a Bunch of Dudes in the Pancreas?
Kid, you're scaring me. Joy is sort of like happiness-like happiness in the moment--and a great 2-D platformer provides loads of it. Tropical Freeze's joys include timing jumps perfectly, evading traps and obstacles, bouncing off one bad guy to the next, all while exploring vast worlds full of secrets and mysteries. Meanwhile, the controls are simple, intuitive, and react to the player's touch they way they should. 
But What's It About?
Donkey Kong and his buddies are chilling on his island, not bothering anyone, when a scary bunch of ice-creatures known as the Snowmads (Snow + nomads) roll in and exile Donkey and his crew to an island far away. With Donkey Kong Island now vacated, the Snowmads take it for their own. The Kongs must trek their way across a chain of five islands, then take back the now-frozen Donkey Kong Island from the King of the Snowmads, himself.
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That Sounds Kind of Simple.  
Exactly. A great video game doesn't need to have a complex story--just a simple mission that the player actually wants to complete, and to which the player can maybe attach a little emotional connection. Donkey Kong is a lovable character, and I don't like that those Snowmad jerks took away his island. Therefore, I want to trounce all the Snowmads and take back Donkey Kong's home. It is fun to master the timing-sensitive jumps along the way, and I can't wait to experience the visual splendor of each consecutive level. And speaking of measuring timing-sensitive jumps, the developers obviously honed their skills on old-school difficult 8-bit games, because one of the greatest pleasures of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is that the game is very, very hard. However, like all trying, yet great games, Tropical Freeze isn't hard because of problems inherent in its design. It is hard because the designers designed it to be so, yet made the challenges fair. If the player masters the controls and gameplay mechanics, they can progress, and feel a great sense of accomplishment. An easier game doesn't yield such a feeling.
This Feels Like a "Review for Dummies." The Language You Are Using Seems Kind of Patronizing. 
I'm not trying to be patronizing. The joys of a basic platformer are so primal...like video game primal. Bouncing between foes' heads and moving platforms over a pit of spikes will always be thrilling, whether the background is a static color and the foes are ten pixels, or the background is gorgeous and full of detail, and the foes look as good as any cable cartoon villain. It's hard to put something so simple into words...it's like trying to describe a color or something. Suffice it to say, it's the way I just described and Retro Studios ramp up the difficulty along the way in subtle and inventive ways. 
Remember those mine cart levels from previous games? They're back, you're about to get launched into one, and you're about to lose like 50 lives.
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Also, if you played Donkey Kong Country Returns for the original Wii, you know all about rocket-barrel levels. During rocket-barrel levels, Donkey and friends get shoved into a barrel that can't stop OR EVEN BRAKE, and can only be steered up or down around the rocket-barrel levels myriad obstacles. "Obstacles" is really a euphemism for death-fields.
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Get ready to die.
Also, the above picture is blurry because the rocket-barrel is fast--the better to kill you. The game also utilizes sidekick barrels, just like previous entries in the series. At certain points in levels, a rotating barrel pops up containing either Dixie Kong, Diddy Kong, or Cranky Kong. At times, the sidekick is situationally chosen for Donkey, and at others, the choice is optional. The sidekick then hops on Donkey's back, to assist him on his journey.
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I mentioned Dixie Kong first because she is by far the most useful sidekick. Her ponytail helicopter-spin extends each Donkey Kong jump by several feet and seconds. This move makes difficult jumps far less difficult. Diddy Kong carries a jetpack that can also extend Donkey's jumps, but not nearly as far as Dixie's (Diddy's give a horizontal boost, but Dixie's is horizontal and vertical). Cranky Kong, the grumpy gramps who simply offered advice in most previous games, is playable for the first time in Tropical Freeze. He is the most difficult sidekick to master, as his special move completely changes the game's dynamics. Cranky holds a walking cane that functions much the same as Scrooge McDuck's pogo-cane in the old NES Ducktales game. When Donkey comes down from jumps, Cranky can slam down his cane to bounce Donkey high in the air. The cane-bounce also allows Donkey to come down safely on sharp objects, which is ideal for spike or thorn-filled levels. However, outside of the latter-mentioned situation, Cranky's merits are debatable. Most players will just want to use Dixie (nicknamed "Flappy" in my household), which is really one of Tropical Freeze's only flaws--the other two-sidekicks' powers should have been more evenly balanced with hers. 
Finally, if a second player wants to join in, two people can play simultaneously as whichever character they like. Unlike the classic Donkey Kong Country games, where player one and player two tag-teamed, each player in Tropical Freeze has free-range to go wherever they want. If one player lags too far behind the other, the slow one is beamed to wherever the further-along Kong is. 
The Kongs traverse a World Map for each island, beating generally six levels, two, or sometimes one of which will contain secret exits to two additional secret levels. Finding these levels is extremely satisfying, as is collecting the Kong letters scattered through each level. If the K, O, N, and G are grabbed from every level on an island, a K-level is unlocked. "K" might as well stand for "kill you a bunch of times," as the K-levels feature some of the most difficult platforming action of all time. These levels were designed with the hardcore gamer in mind, and clearing them is quite a cathartic experience. Bopopolis, for example, features no ground, and forces the player to bounce off the heads of countless villains throughout its seemingly eternal duration. I exhaled so loudly when I finished this level...er put this level behind me...er, came to the end of this level...er, beat this level, that I think my neighbors called the cops, and I live in a cane field surrounded by swamps.
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Each level also contains a various amount of puzzle pieces. Collecting all of these, as well as progressing through various points of the game, unlocks cool production art, dioramas, and choice level soundtrack cuts. Gotta catch em all?
Like Pokemon. Speaking of Pokemon, Remember in the Pokemon Movie, When the Tears of the Pokemon Healed Ash? Do These Levels Have Save Points?
Well, I've definitely never seen that movie before, and definitely never cried whenever Pikachu tried to revive Ash's corpse with thunderbolts because I don't even know about that part because like I said I've never seen that movie, but yes, the game's levels contain multiple save points. You may have heard some critics whining that the save points are spaced too far apart, but those particular critics are just whiny crybabies, who are scared of a little challenge. It's not a game if it holds your hand and just lets you win--if it lets you win, then you aren't actually playing. 
Anyway, the real challenge awaits the player who beats Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze and obtains all the game's items (and, as said, there are only two types needed to unlock anything, KONG letters and puzzle pieces...not 78,000 item types like a certain 3-D Donkey Kong game). That dedicated player is given the gift of hard mode.
Defeating the original mode, collecting all the items, gaining access to a secret, ultra-challenging seventh world, and receiving a 100% score is challenging and satisfying enough. Taking on hard mode is an act of madness. In hard mode, the player can use whatever Kong they choose, but they most go it alone with no sidekick...and one hit leads to death. In regular mode, the character can take two hits, and can often fill back the first hit with a heart item from a felled foe. When one can only take one hit, there is no replenishing. This completely changes the game from a dream to a digital nightmare, as even the easiest level on normal mode with a sidekick who can take two hits before the player even gets down to Donkey's first two becomes an obstacle course from hell on hard mode. One simply does not realize how often they were getting hit before, until those hits really, really count.  Playing through this hard mode unlocks a few extra pieces of Tropical Freeze concept art, and extreme bragging rights. Just for fun, the player can also try to do this while collecting all the Kong letters again, which now go from their classic red and yellow color-scheme to blue-and-gold...which you can see in one of the photos above as proof positive that this reviewer's dedication is insane.  
Anything else? 
Glad you asked because I actually forgot a few other items the player can collect. There are bananas scattered everywhere, just like coins in the Mario games. If the player grabs 100, they get an extra life to burn (and they will need it!). The player can also grab tokens throughout each level that they can spend at Funky Kong's shop (each island contains one Funky Kong station).
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You can buy Kong barrels for sidekick assistance, extra lives, extra its, a balloon that gives more oxygen for the games' numerous underwater levels, a balloon that gives the Kongs one free pass from falling to death,and a crash-guard to give an extra hit during vehicle-based levles, plus little collectible, randomly chosen figurines featuring the game's vast character gallery. Oh, and I forgot, Donkey's old friend Rambi the Rhino shows up to give Donkey a ride every now and then, allowing the player to plow through foes, and open up secret areas. 
Finally (this is the second "Finally"), to harp on the second of this game's very minor flaws, the Wii U's unique controller screen serves only one function in Tropical Freeze: the player can use it to play the game when the TV is off. If the TV screen is used, the Wii U gamepad controller screen is black. This doesn't hurt this near perfect video game experience, but it certainly would have been nice to use the Wii U's unique strength to the game's advantage...though admittedly, I did get quite a few late night rounds in on the gamepad, while everyone else in the house was asleep.
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Looks Like You're Going Long, As Usual, But You Haven't Even Talked About the Music, Which You Always Seem to Like to Ramble About. What Gives?
What gives is, I saved the best for last. David Wise's soundtracks for Donkey Kong Country 1 and 2 are generally considered to be two of the greatest video game scores of all time. Just check out any video-game remix website or Youtube channel, and songs from those games generally dominate. For the last two decades, Wise has been largely absent from the Donkey Kong Country franchise. Tropical Freeze not only marks Wise's triumphant return to Donkey Kong, but a series and career best. 
I mentioned "emotion" up above in relation to this game. This game's emotion comes from David Wise's score. From the fun jazz of the early, more easy-going levels, the strange, breezy intensity of the mountainous second island,the celebratory African chants and sounds of the third, the atmospheric, mysterious pieces of the mostly submerged fourth island ("Amiss Abyss" is my jam!), the texturally rich tunes of the fifth island, to the rousing music of Donkey Kong's return to his now frozen home, which sounds like it could soundtrack William Wallace returning to the highlands to face the British, every stage, THAT'S RIGHT, every stage's music is supremely evocative. I capitalize to not only press the incredible point that Wise composed a unique song for almost every level in this 60-plus level game, but that somehow, reaching sheer ludicrous levels of mastery, every stage's music seems somehow better than the last. 
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So, IN ADDITION to wanting to see whatever fun challenges and eye-pleasing visuals await behind each level's entrance, there is the added pleasure of hearing just what aural alchemy David Wise has conjured next. 
As far as sound effects, from Donkey Kong's grunts, to the sound of his massive fists pounding the ground in TIME TO GET SOME defiance, to bells ringing and volcanoes erupting, everything here is movie quality. 
I'm Out of Questions and Snippy Comments. It Sounds Like You Really Love this Game.
I do, and I think I can praise it without bias. I love those first two Donkey Kong Country games, but I can still objectively criticize the collectathon Nintendo 64 iteration, even though I love Nintendo 64, Nintendo 64 Rareware games, Nintendo 64 Rareware platformers, and Nintendo 64 Rareware platformers composed by Grant Kirkhope. Donkey Kong 64 (yes, I will speak its name) isn't an awful game, but it contains several uninspired elements that distance it from greatness. Donkey Kong 64 is worth playing, but Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is more than worth playing.
Simply put, for fans of old-school platformers, for younger fans who have enjoyed the recent 2-D indie-gaming boom, or for fans of great video games in general, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a can't miss. In fact, if you don't even like video games, but if you enjoy great music, particularly World Music, Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a can't miss. In fact, if you are a living, breathing human, and you can get your hands on a video game controller, you at least owe it to yourself to play Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze's Grassland Grove stage. In fact...
Alright, We Get It.
Good, my hands are starting to hurt from typing...and I need to use my hands to play Donkey Kong.
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Colorful, detailed, fully lived-in environments for a beautifully rendered and animated Kong family to rampage through.

Music and Sound
David Wise may be the greatest video-game composer of all time, and this atmospheric, emotional soundtrack is his masterpiece. Sound effects satisfy. 

Challenging, near-flawless 2-D platforming, full of secrets and unlockable bonuses.   

Lasting Value
Working through all six worlds takes time, then there are secret levels, items and art to unlock, and an extra world and hard mode tossed in when all is completed.


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Metroid: Other M (Review)

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Metroid: Other M 
Released on the Wii, August 31, 2010, by Nintendo, Team Ninja, and D-Rockets 
Retail: $19.99
Wii U Game Reviews Score: 8.0/10

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Last month's Metroid Prime 3:Corruption review detailed my MIA Wii status. I missed out on the Wii's entire lifespan. However, I did spend those lost seven years as an interested bystander. I kept tabs on many of the new games that were released. Nothing piqued my interest more than 2010's Metroid: Other M. It looked so cool. A third-person 3-D Metroid? I had already missed the concluding chapter of Metroid Prime. Now I was gonna miss this?!
Life's not fair!
That's the best thing about it, though.
It's not very fair that a guy working two jobs, with a wife and kid and 600 hobbies still somehow finds time to not only play video games, but review them. That's the most satisfying part of this whole thing. I never thought I'd get the chance to play these games, but here I am, in my 30's, having the time of my life. On this great, unexpected second life of video-game playing, my most recent conquest was the previously mentioned Metroid Prime 3, the concluding chapter of the nearly perfect Metroid Prime series. Feeling that the least fair way to review Metroid: Other M, one of the most controversial games in the Metroid series, would be to play it immediately after tackling one of the series' most heralded entries, I immediately began playing Metroid: Other M in preparation for this review.
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Why Was It So Controversial, You Long-Winded Gasbag?

Metroid games generally have one thing in common: bounty hunter, Samus Aran, wandering solo through a foreboding alien landscape, fighting alien monsters, powering up her metallic, weaponized suit. In Other M, Aran joins up with a Galactic Federation assault team, tasked with investigating a distress call from a huge, seemingly abandoned spacecraft, known as the Bottle Ship. The assault team just happens to be headed by Samus' old superior, Adam Malkovich. Samus was once a soldier for the Federation, but left because she was just too awesome to deal with their crap...until now. Upon sight of her old supervisor, the once badass loner Samus now becomes a subservient lapdog. That's pretty much the reason Other M has an awful reputation. 

But What?
If you think about it, Samus takes orders from a Federation commander in Metroid Prime 3, as well, and late in that game, she assists a Federation assault team. No one complains about that. 
That's Because People Are Lame.
While I don't completely disagree with you, people were not being lame in this case. These two games contain a key difference in their portrayal of Samus Aran. In Prime 3, and in just about every Metroid game, Samus is generally called on by the Federation because she is the only person awesome enough to take care of their problems. The cool general from Metroid Prime 3 might bark like Winston Churchill (and I love me some Winston Churchill), but when it comes to Samus, he knows his forces would be flailing around like worms after a heavy rain if not for her assistance. Also, Samus, like Link, the hero of the Zelda games, does not talk...in any game... before...ever. In that fashion, Samus' and Link's thoughts are simply your thoughts. In action, they are a cipher for you, while still maintaining awesome characterization in their movement and stoic silence. The Samus of Other M, in cutscenes, is not stoic. Even without Samus' costly, PTSD-induced inaction at vital moments of Other M, and her ridiculous and poorly explained adoration for Adam, Samus would be bearable if she would just shut the hell up.
So That's It! You're a Sexist Pig!
Maybe so, but that has nothing to do with my complaint here. In fact, when I heard people whining about Other M five years ago, I just figured they were angry because Samus was actually being portrayed as a woman. After all, she is...a woman. That's not it, though. It's that she over-narrates everything. A character might say, "This place is deserted," which Samus' internal monlogue will immediately follow with "he exclaimed, as he squinted his eyes." First off, I know he exclaimed it because I heard him say it. Second off, I know he squinted his eyes because the game showed the dude squinting his eyes. The narration is an insult to the player's intelligence. At this point in artistic history, "Show, don't tell" should go without saying, but the Samus of Other M tells everything.
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There's Samus doing some Adam-pleading near the end of the game. In their first Other M encounter, Adam says something rather gruff to Samus, and the game then perfectly exemplifies what I'm complaining about here. "His words pierced my heart," Samus says. Not only is this sentence an abomination because it is being said by a character who is generally piercing monsters exoskeleton's with missile blasts--not having her feelings hurt--but also because a simple cutscene cut to a slightly pained expression on Samus' face after Adam makes the "heart-piercing" comment would have sufficed. It doesn't help that the narration is often woodenly read.
So what I'm saying here is that the actual problem with Other M is how the story is being told, not the story itself.
And actually, I feel like I've just gotten most of Other M's negatives out of the way. Let's get to the rest of the game.

Cool...So What's a Bottle Ship?
Glad you asked, because setting is actually one of Metroid: Other M's strongest assets. This is "the" Bottle Ship.
 photo metroid other m 062_zpseb0rqdsn.jpgTurns out the Bottle Ship is a place where the Federation secretly attempted to transform a multitude of the galaxy's indigenous creatures into weapons of war. 
Because these various creatures hail from various environments, the Bottle Ship is divided into several different climate zones. This satisfies an old childhood fetish of mine: the Bottle Ship is a Biodome!
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There's also a jungle area, as well as a mechanized, laboratory area.
While all of these environments are now standard fare for a Metroid game, the very fact that this is, indeed, a biodome ship, makes the settings cooler. One particularly awesome touch is that certain computer-generated touches in several particularly massive rooms can be turned off or on.
For instance, one stunning outdoor environment
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can be revealed to be nothing more than this
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Thankfully, you can always hit the switch and turn the metal walls into a beautiful blue skyline whenever you wish.
As you can see, these areas graphically push the Wii pretty hard, and while they don't quite match Metroid Prime 3's level of excellence, they're still top notch. The abundance of color is especially appreciated.
The beasts that populate the ship are, for the most part, equally stunning. I say most part because there are one or two goofy looking critters roaming around, but for the most part, Other M features a wonderfully grotesque rogues gallery.
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This hideous thing above looked even uglier when it was still alive (SPOILER: IT'S NOT REALLY DEAD). 
Speaking of enemies, AI is really excellent. Combat in Other M can get pretty brutal: I haven't trashed talked computer-controlled creatures this much in quite a long time. 
In third-person action, the player simply points Samus in the direction they want to shoot, and presses the "1" button on the Wii remote to fire away. "2" is for jump, and that sums up the basics. Run, jump, and shoot. The game also tosses a few "melee" moves into the mix. Time a jump onto an enemy's back and fire a devastating blast into their body from close range. Knock an enemy to the ground and time a dash forward perfectly to shove your cannon right down their throat for a kill-shot. Get too close to one another and grapple for a body-slam. It's all very satisfying, and just typing this is raising my bloodlust, and reminding me of the harsh epithets I reserved for my mightiest foes, as I scattered their ashes among the eternally wafting dusts of the galaxy.
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Hey buddy, what are you looking at over there?
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Just wait til I hit the ground...

That Was the Best Trash Talking You Did?
Leave me alone! Who even let you in here, asking all these questions?!
Anyway, combat is a pleasure and
Wait, a Few Minutes Ago, the Picture You Posted of that Ugly Monster Was Totally Not From the Third-Person. Just What Are You Trying to Pull Here?
Well, that's the thing. To keep things interesting, the player can point the Wii Remote at the screen to enter a First-Person Perspective. From this view, the player can fire missiles (or Samus' normal cannon shots), or investigate the environment more closely. Some enemies, particularly bosses, require the player to enter the first-person mode. While the player can aim freely, they cannot move geographically in this mode (unless they are swinging on a grapple or riding a mine cart or something). Thankfully, the transitional moments between first and third person are generally very smooth. I never died because I felt the controls were cheating me. I died because I needed to get better at Metroid: Other M. 
However, Other M's first-person mode does harbor a major flaw. The view is also used in several non-combat situations. At certain points, the camera automatically goes into first-person, signifying that Samus must investigate a certain object to advance. Unfortunately, this portion of the game is a major drag. Often, the object in question is tiny. Imagine trying to find a cockroach in the picture below. That about sums it up. 
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Not to be outdone, third-person mode contains a similarly frustrating feature, where the camera suddenly parks behind Samus, and Samus can suddenly only walk very slowly...presumably to build suspense (this usually occurs before major storyline moments).
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Let's get back to the good stuff, though, by exploring another of Other M's strongest aspects: sound. The game features a mostly ambient soundtrack (composed by Kuniaki Haishima), with rousing orchestral fanfare during boss fights and action-oriented cutscenes. The ambient portions are quite atmospheric and effective, while the orchestral pieces, the first orchestra-scored moments in a Metroid game, get the blood pumping. My favorite musical moment comes early in the game, after an adrenaline-pumping boss fight, the soundtrack becoming a quiet yet determined electronic amalgamation of Ghost In the Shell-type contemplation, martial drums, subtle strings, and whale sounds, as Samus dives into a newly opened aquatic area. Also, the five-note "Samus Enters" theme, played when Samus emerges from a save point, is as rousing as ever in its new symphonic form (though I must admit, I am quite partial to the synthesized version from the "Prime" series).
Sound effects are excellent, with ambient sounds really thickening the atmosphere. Enemy grunts, weapons' blasts are all as boomingly explosive as they should be. The only real detriment to the sound department is the game's voice-work. Line-reading is hit or miss, with Jessica Martin sometimes flawlessly convincing as Samus, and sometimes sounding like she is disinterestedly reading the elements off the periodic chart. Of course, with the some of the awful dialogue Martin had to bring to life, no wonder she sounds a bit robotic and detached at times.
You Mentioned Save Points Just A Moment Ago. How Do Those Work?
It's funny you brought that up because here comes one right now.
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Wow. Good timing. 
That's what I said every time I came across one in this game. They are the only way to re-fill your health-meter, outside of the ability to "concentrate" a little extra energy when you are near death (getting hit while "concentrating" cancels the process). Defeated enemies do not leave behind energy pickups. 
Do You Also Come Across Suit Upgrades, Like In Other Metroid Games?
Yes. Missile Capacity Expansions (you can only carry ten at the start) are ingeniously hidden throughout the ship, as well as expansions that increase the amount to which your health meter can fill (the usual Metroid "energy tanks"). As usual, Samus can roll up into her "morph ball" to get to hard to reach areas, at times to progress through the game, at other times just to look for natural Samus enhancements.
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Alright, Cool. Well, I'm Kind of Getting Tired of Reading Your Dribble. You Want to Wrap This Up?
Sure, and I'll do so with a quick pros and cons comparison.
People slag this game for its cutscenes and story, and rightfully so. While the cutscenes actually look aesthetically incredible, they do indeed suck in their storytelling capabilities, mainly due to a lousy script and lousy line-readings. However, the cutscenes aren't the whole game. They're not even a quarter of it. They're maybe a tenth at most. But they are, indeed, terrible. The gameplay is actually old-school fun, though, with a simple control scheme (you only use the Wii Remote, and mostly only two buttons of it, at that), frenetic combat, and some sweet boss-fights (against often massive, visually impressive foes). The game's switch between first and third-person view is fairly innovative, and almost always seamless. 
People slag the fact that Samus is limited in which abilities she can use due to arbitrary commands by her superior, Adam. Every Metroid game features an arbitrary reason for Samus starting off weaker and gaining abilities as she progresses through her adventure. Sure, there are times where Adam waits a little longer than he should to say, authorize Samus' heat-resistant suit (I'd been catching fire for at least ten minutes), but from a storyline perspective, it does make sense that Samus wouldn't just unleash the fearsome destructive power of her power bombs and super missiles on an unfamiliar ship, until it has been deemed safe that she do so.
So flawed, yes. But also fun. Most of the time a lot of fun. Unfortunately, the time just isn't quite long enough. I beat Other M in about 12 hours, including its prologue, and even though I had only found 43% of Samus' total suit expansions, I felt little urge to get the other 57%. I had already proven my worth by besting all of Samus' foes. A couple additional hours backtracking for items I didn't really need did not sound appealing. I died approximately 25 times during that 12 hours, but never felt like it was because I wasn't powered up enough...it was generally because I just needed to play better. Players can also unlock bonus artwork with a higher completion rate, but I was happy enough with what I had unlocked with my 43%.
That said, I bought Other M from a clearance rack at Best But for $13.99. The game was certainly worth that. Ignoring the cutscenes, I feel like Metroid: Other M is 12 hours and $13.99 well spent.  At 4+ years since Other M's release, with no sign of a new Metroid game on the horizon, maybe it's time you picked it up and gave it a shot.  photo metroid other m 039_zpsgor8w8pw.jpg
In your face.

Large environments, full of color and weather effects, featuring huge, grotesquely-detailed bosses, and frenetic action against multitudes of foes with no slowdown.

Music and Sound
Atmospheric, enveloping ambient soundtrack, with huge symphonic cues, booming sound effects, and one of the crappiest voice-overs of the modern gaming age.

Make it past the awful cutscenes, and you'll experience a very fun third-person shooter, exploring a vast, supremely cool environment.

Lasting Value
Single-player mode ends after barely 12-hours, with no multi-player, and little incentive to return.


Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Metroid Prime 3: Corruption (Review)

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Metroid Prime 3: Corruption
Released on the Wii, August 27, 2007, by Retro Studios and Nintendo 
Retail: $49.99
Wii U Game Reviews Score: 9.9/10

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I've been a Nintendo fanboy for almost 30 years. However, as the son of a farmer, I wasn't exactly rolling in cartridges as a kid. I was able to pick up, at the most, two or three games a year. By the time SNES rolled around, I could find some ways to make spare change, and get a few more. By the time the Nintendo 64 rolled around, I had a job and could buy most of the games I wanted. However, money generally comes with a catch-22. To make it, you have to work. To work, you have to give up time you would otherwise give to video games. Life's not fair. Still, I found time to purchase every Nintendo home console, up until the Wii. For some reason, I thought married dudes couldn't play video games. That was a stupid assumption.

The Wii came out a month before I married, and over the next few months, I watched the Wii craze explode. I was quite shocked to see this new Nintendo system outsell its rivals, Sony and Microsoft, after both the Nintendo 64 and Gamecube got kicked around so badly in the market. The craze didn't stop there, though: the Nintendo Wii went on to become one of only three home consoles in history to sell more than 100 million units.
The whole world was having a Wii party, and I wasn't invited.
Zelda, Mario, Samus, all got shiny, new, awesome games, and I had no means or time to play them. Samus' new adventure was perhaps the most painful to miss. I had played through and loved both Metroid Prime 1 & 2. Metroid Prime 3 was a Wii exclusive. My cousin had a Wii, though, and he had picked up Metroid Prime 3, though he was apparently upset with the new Wii motion controls. I went over to his place one night to play Metroid Prime 3, and we struggled to make it to just the first boss. It destroyed us. We never played the game again, and my hands rarely touched a Wii Remote for the next half-a-decade. Then, the backward-compatible Wii U was released.
By this point, I had wised up. I had been playing video games again for awhile on my old classics, the Super Nintendo, the Dreamcast, the Nintendo 64. I knew now was the time to jump back onto the new system bandwagon. My son's burgeoning interest in video games only fueled the fire. We picked up a Wii U, and some Wii U games, but I knew I had a lot of unfinished business to attend to. It was time to catch up on what I missed--Metroid first. I couldn't leave Samus hanging.
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That Was the Longest Intro Ever! Talk About Metroid Prime 3 Now! 

Sounds like a plan!
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption continues the Prime Series' story, with bounty hunter, Samus Aran, returning to the Federation fleet after an adventure on the planet Aether. Samus is summoned to the fleet, along with several other bounty hunters, but almost immediately after her arrival, the fleet is attacked by Space Pirates. These Pirates are led by Samus' nemesis, the Phazon mirror, Dark Samus. The fleet is able to fend off the attack, only because of Samus' heroics, though the beating she takes renders her unconscious.
Samus wakes, weeks later, to find that she and the other bounty hunters were corrupted by Phazon, a malevolent alien energy source. In an attempt to stem and benefit from the corruption, the Federation have equipped Samus and the other corrupted bounty hunters with a Phazon Enhancement Device, or PED. This device allows the bounty hunters to utilize the dark energy now inside them.
Samus also discovers she is the last of the bounty hunters to awaken. The others were sent on separate missions to investigate similar space pirate attacks...all have ceased communication with the fleet. It is up to Samus to investigate...intergalactic mayhem ensues.  

So Samus Is Off On Another Lonely, Alien-Eradicating Journey?
Not exactly. While Samus herself does not speak, Corruption features plenty of characters to talk to. Just look below.
 photo c2a8d487-6905-4008-b5ca-bab6216450f2_zpsgzsq3m1e.jpgThroughout the game, Samus will work together with the fleet, keeping radio communications with the Federation's Admiral Dane, several computer systems, as well as others she comes across in her travels. As this is the 21st century, all of these characters feature full speech, and the voice acting is great. All of this character interaction marks new territory for the series, but if you're like me, you aren't playing Metroid Prime games to socialize. You are playing them because you are a loner with authority issues who cherishes the opportunity to wander incomprehensible alien landscapes, blasting strange, terrifying creatures as you ponder the nature and depths of your alienation.
 photo f21b8161-04b9-439f-bbe4-3c693c21f639_zpssv4evyee.jpgLonely Hearts of the Cosmos...
Thankfully, the majority of Metroid Prime 3: Corruption features Samus Aran, exploring on her own, blasting monsters from a first-person perspective, solving puzzles, and occasionally folding into a metal (morph) ball in a third-person perspective to navigate tighter tunnels and passageways. While the nature of the gameplay is quite similar to its two predecessors (and rightfully so, as this is a cohesive trilogy), the manner in which Samus is controlled is severely altered.
But I Don't Like Change!
Yeah, well me neither, but the fact of the matter is, the Nintendo Wii was not created to push graphical boundaries. It was created to offer new possibilities for how video games can be played. Because of this, Metroid Prime 3: Corruption's main hook is not a more graphically enhanced version of the series' previous two games, though it looks better and plays smoother than those two. Corruption's main hook is that it comes closer to putting players behind Samus Aran's visor than ever before. This is done through the game's innovative control system. Samus' geographical movement is done via the joystick-like nunchuk controller, held in the player's left hand. However, her aiming and firing is done via motion control by the Wii Remote, held in the player's right hand, pointed at the screen. While this control scheme has been compared to a PC keyboard and mouse set up, I find it more akin to something else.
I've always enjoyed the light gun arcade shooters of the 90's: Lethal Enforcers, Area 51, Virtual Cop...the only thing I don't like about those games is that geographical movement is on rails--the player has no control over where they walk, or the direction they are headed. Those games move for you. You just aim with the controller (usually a light gun) and shoot.
Metroid Prime 3 changes that. The player gets to aim and pull the trigger (the B-button beneath the Wii Remote), but also gets to go wherever they want, whenever they want--the nunchuk joystick in their left hand gives complete control. When I blast the titular metroids (yes, they're back, and they're still terrifying) in Metroid Prime 3, as in the photo below, I might as well be Samus--I'm seamlessly and intuitively moving in whatever geographic space I need to be, while my arm is moving and firing with an identical motion to hers. I have total freedom.
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Admittedly, this amount of control takes some getting used to, and eight years ago, pressed for time, I couldn't handle it. However, given time, there are no better controls. The amount of freedom is unparalleled.  I can't see going back to just holding a regular old controller and twiddling my thumbs, but...looks like that's what's going to happen. With the Wii's incredible sales, plenty of subpar game developers jumped in and flooded the market with subpar games. While Nintendo and its first-party developers released several landmark titles that fully utilized the Wii's unique possibilities, many third-party developers dropped the ball. Thus, instead of being seen as the future of video-game control, the Wii Remote and nunchuk are seen by the majority as a gimmick.
How unfortunate.
Metroid Prime 3: Corruption fully realizes the promise and capabilities of this control scheme. From yanking back the nunchuk to rip off enemy shields, pouring the final shots into an enormous boss with a fierce, pointer-finger crescendo, to at times, and rather satisfyingly, needing the skill do both motions at once, it doesn't get any better than this.
Except, of course, for the rare instance the player forgets what they are doing and points the Wii Remote away from the sensor bar...awakening the circle of death.
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While this only happened to me during combat maybe three times after I got the hang of things, and never once altered the outcome of a battle, that one second loss of control while my Wii Remote re-calibrated was quite infuriating...but what is three seconds out of 23 hours?
Three seconds.
Okay, So the Controls Are Really Sweet, and the Game Is Fun to Play...But Do the Under-Powered Wii Graphics Murder Your Eyes?
It's no secret that the Nintendo Wii's graphics chip is a barely updated version of what gamers got from the Nintendo Gamecube...which was released five years earlier. However, that has no effect on this review, as
1. I am only rating Metroid Prime 3: Corruption's graphics against other Wii games, and
2. The game looks great.
Retro Studios' art department is second to none, and even with Wii processor power dwarfed by the competing X-Box 360 and Playstation 3, Metroid Prime 3 holds its own.
Retro created several distinct planets for Samus to traverse (another major departure for the series, as the previous two Prime games kept Samus tethered to one particular planet, respective to each game). While Prime 1 did the basic video game lava area, ice area, jungle area take, Prime 2 mixed things up a little bit. Prime 3 takes things in even more interesting directions.
A key visual inspiration here seems to be the Star Wars prequels. From a story and character perspective, a Star Wars prequel reference is a great insult, but from an art department perspective (as well as the perspectives of music composition(John Williams!) and fight coordination), that's a pretty high compliment. The prequel influence makes sense, as Star Wars: Episode Three was released during Metroid Prime 3's development.
Corruption's planets include Norion, featuring a federation base clinging to rocky cliff walls (reminiscent of Episode III's Utapau), Bryyo, featuring enormous fungi, even more enormous statues that come to life, and fiery bits of buring jet fuel, and Elysia, featuring a steam-punk-influenced technological hub in the skies. Elysia's architecture is particularly gorgeous, and it is hard not to think of the prequels' battle droids when running into Elysia's errant robots.
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Corruption's enemy monsters are highly detailed and uniquely designed. Like other Metroid Prime games, the player can scan enemies and certain pieces of architecture with their visor for more information (and unlock bonuses by doing so). Weapon effects are excellent and appropriately devastating. Few things make me happier than watching all the particles build around Samus' charged cannon shot. Also, the game runs at 60 frames-per-second, making for a faster and smoother visual experience than its two predecessors.
Okay, It's Pleasing On the Eyes. But Does Metroid Prime 3 Meet the Series' High Audio Standards?
Definitely. Corruption's musical score continues Kenji Yamamoto's winning streak. To keep cohesion with previous games, the soundtrack is completely synthesized, but it makes the most of its medium.
I'll just say, if you've played a Metroid Prime game before, and you see this for the first time:
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you know you're about to hear some awesome music. Yamamoto's choral works for Metroid Prime's menus hit a trifecta of awesome here, with Corruption as possibly his greatest opening theme yet. Prime 3 features a several more choral compositions, among them a jaunty, burly, male-led piece for a portion of Bryyo, and a gorgeous, ethereal one for the sky-city of Elysia. The latter is actually reminiscent of some of Howard Shore's music for the elvish cities of the Lord of the Ring's films...another movie trilogy that was released during the Metroid Prime series' run.
In addition to Yamamoto's rich themes, select portions of the soundtrack focus on dark atmosphere over melody, immersing the player in Metroid Prime's world. Also, boss fight music is sufficiently pulse pounding,  Finally, it doesn't hurt that the five note "Samus Enters" theme that plays every time you leave your gunship after a game load makes you feel like you can take on the entire galaxy. Also, when you blow stuff up and shoot monsters, it sounds real nice.
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Have You Forgotten Anything Important In Your Long-Winded Rambling?
Yes, actually...I've neglected to detail a couple of Metroid Prime 3's additions to the series' gameplay.
The first is the PED suit's features. Hahaha...I just got the developer's joke. Good thing Barry Bonds didn't have this thing in the 90's.
Samus' PED suit is incredibly destructive. If a fight is lacking in chaos, Samus can always inject one of her life energy tanks into her PED suit and go into "hypermode." The screen then tints hazy white and Samus turns into Samus on...steroids. Phazon shots absolutely decimate enemies, and throughout the game, more Phazon attacks are learned and earned. The only problem..."hypermode" not only drains Samus' energy, but introduces the possibility that Samus will completely overdose...er, overload on Phazon. This kills Samus, transforming her into darkness itself, and must be avoided at all costs, generally by firing off Phazon shots as rapidly as possible when Samus' Phazon meter goes red.
The second important addition is the ability to enter the cockpit of Samus' gunship.
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This is super awesome. While the player cannot manually fly the ship, they can select a new planetary destination, check their status, and look really, really cool.
Hey, That's Nice. You Done Yet?
Do you want me to be?
Well, Actually, I Have One More Question, But Please Only Answer It If You Can Do So Concisely, and Not As a Long Ramble, Like You Do Everything Else.
That statement was kind of a ramble.
Sorry. What was your question?
How Long Am I Going to Be Playing This Thing? Are There Like, Item Search Quests or Anything?
I beat the game in 23 hours, and Gamefaq's survey (with over 500 gamers reporting) lists the average game completion time at a little under 25 hours--perfect for this sort of game, in my opinion. It's enough time to get your money's worth and fully explore each world and the game's mechanics, but not so much time that the game becomes tedious. As in most Metroid games, the player can achieve a 100% completion rate by collecting all of Samus' suit upgrades.
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In addition to making Samus become even more dangerous than at Corruption's start, with missile expansions giving her a higher missile carrying capacity, and energy tanks increasing the damage she can take, all this collecting unlocks a better ending for our hero. Finish with a high enough completion percentage, and...heheh...Samus takes off her helmet.
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In all seriousness, finishing the game with 75% of all items collected initiates a surprisingly reflective ending that grants quite a catharsis for those who have played through the entire series. Get 100% of the items, and you get yet another ending scene added post-credits (though the 100% completed extra scene is more unconnected epilogue than emotional). If you really love this game, 100% completion unlocks the insanely hard "Hypermode Difficulty." While playing on "Normal Mode" allows the player to gain various tokens for performing certain tasks, defeating certain enemies, and scanning certain objects, "Hypermode Difficulty" allows the player to collect even more. These tokens can be used on the main menu to purchase songs from the soundtrack and view exclusive game art. This is really cool, but only for the absolute diehard, as even I, a pretty huge Metroid fan, was fully satisfied simply by completing the "Normal Mode" at 100%.
So in conclusion...
You've most likely got a Wii lying around your house somewhere, and a Wii Remote and Wii Nunchuk you've never fully appreciated.
Time to use them.
It doesn't matter if you've never played a Metroid Prime game before. The story is easy to pick up, and like most games featuring one of Nintendo's lead characters, gameplay is featured far above story, anyway.
Go play this game.
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This is about as good as the Wii can do. Good character models, animation, and weapon effects, greatly augmented by Retro Studio's incredible art design and architecture.

Music and Sound
Epic, memorable themes, and atmospheric, enveloping musical textures. Sound effects are almost as good as actual shrapnel and tentacles flying out of your television.

Signature Metroid Prime first-person shooter and explorative gameplay (along with third-person morph ball rolling) at its best, with incredible control innovations to boot.

Lasting Value
The main mission is fun and hits the completion time sweet-spot,  while offering enough things to do on the side for even the most meticulous, demanding player.