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Game Reviews

Review – Super Mario Run (Android, iOS)

The Good

  • Solid Mario style Game on Mobile
  • Smooth graphics and Gameplay
  • Fun Gameplay in some modes

The Bad

  • Regular price is too high ($10)
  • Repetitive Gameplay
  • Toad Rally is Lame

In Depth

Nintendo is slowly making their way to mobile with a few of their flagship series, namely Pokemon and Super Mario Brothers.  They still aren’t putting out straight ports of the classics yet, but hopefully they will come around.  Hopefully when they do they don’t flub it and overprice everything the way Square has done with it’s Final Fantasy ports.  Mario’s first mobile foray is Super Mario Run, on Android and iOS.

Super Mario Run is a combination of quick repeatable mobile gameplay and classic Mario gameplay.  The overall feel and look is similar to the New Super Mario Brothers games, 2D side scrolling with 3D objects and sprites.  The main catch is that Mario is always moving to the right.  The game is designed to be played with one hand, and your only real control is to tap to jump.  It’s not really an endless runner, but it sort of plays like one.  The game is divided up into several levels and game modes, Tour, which is the standard single player campaign, Toad Rally, which is an online competitive game, and the new Remix 10, which is short bursts of very short levels.

There is also a Kingdom Builder mode which ties everything together and sort of serves as the purpose and end goal to every other mode.  As you gather Toads to your kingdom, your castle will level up to return to it’s former glory.  You also will gain new buildings to unlock and build in the kingdom and the ability to expand into other areas, increasing the size of your build space.  It’s neat, but serves no real purpose.  The toads will dance around the buildings but they are mostly decorative and placing a bunch of statues has the same effect as placing a bunch of Toad houses.  There are a handful of buildings which can be used to unlock simple mini games to gain Toad Rally Tickets, but they are in the minority of buildings you will unlock.  This mode is also limited a bit in how many spaces are available to build on.  This can be a little frustrating since it will very often mean choosing what you want to build too often and you’ll end up with a large bank fo unused buildings by simply not having room.

You primarily gather Toads by playing Toad Rally.  This is also my biggest gripe with this game.  Toad Rally is incredibly tedious.  You sort of play against other players, but it’s not real time.  It’s also not clear if it’s an actual play through of that player either, since often the ghosts will be different each round.  Most of these Toad Rallies are decided by whomever manages to get a Star power up as well, making most rounds one sided at one point.  The number of Toad Rally courses isn’t particularly varied and some stages are extra annoying to play such as Ghost houses, which require a lot of downtime waiting for Boos and looping through the same screen or the Airship levels, which usually result in a lot of deaths due to the constant pits between platforms and the unpredictability of cannons and enemies.  This exacerbates the tedium of these levels because even when you win the round, the scores are so low you will only earn a small handful of Toads of the corresponding color.  So, for example, you’ll get to play a LOT of repetitive Ghost House levels in order to get anywhere in collecting Purple Toads.

The new mode, Remix-10 is the new primary way to unlock items for your Kingdom, and it’s the closest mode to an Endless runner game that there is.  It gets a little old but I find it to be the most fun of the various modes.  You play through ten very short, maybe 10-20 second levels of varying types in a row each session.  Even if you die on a segment, you just move on to the next segment.  The only real objective is you pass ten levels, even if you die on all ten, though along the way you collect Rainbow Coins which unlock special bonus items.  You also get an item after each segment of ten.  In general, the mode is very generous with item drops.   The problem ends up being the one mentioned previously, where you run out of room.  Unlocking more space means building bridges, which means collecting a TON of Toads in the lame Toad Rally.

The last major mode is the Tour Mode.  This is the more traditional single player game.  There are 6 regular worlds, each with 4 levels each (3 normal and a castle/Airship).  After finishing the main run you unlock the Star World which consists of 9 levels unlocked by completing special tasks.  Playing Tour serves several purposes.  Completing tour unlocks Princess Peach as a playable character.  Completing worlds adds more variety to the playable levels in Toad Rally.  You also have the opportunity in each level to collect 5 special coins which often require tricky moves and techniques.

There are certainly a lot of opportunities here for Classic Mobile Game Micro transactions.  The Toad Rally tickets is the most obvious choice, special buyable items would certainly be another.  Thankfully, Super Mario Run has no micro transactions.  It’s Free to Play, but it’s more like a Shareware title.  The only thing you can purchase is the full game unlock.  You can play the first three levels and Toad Rally for free, but to get more, you’ll need to pay up.  This brings up the other big downside to this title.  It’s fun, there’s quite a bit to do, it’s not really $10 fun.  There is a sale going on (as of this review) that may come back again some time, for half off.  At five dollars, the game feels really worth it.  Everything is just too repetitive for $10.  You can buy full on Mario games for $10, or a lot of other games with more game play.  Maybe if Toad Rally were less tedious making the Kingdom Builder more robust and less limited, it would be worth more, maybe.

Review – Metroid: Zero Mission (GBA)

After wrapping up the remake of Metroid II with Metroid: Samus Returns, it seemed like a good idea to look back a bit on Metroid Zero Mission, the remake of the original Metroid put out for the Game Boy Advanced.

Previous to Metroid Zero I had just finished Metroid Classic, the GBA remake of the NES game. The best part of the Classics series is that they are pretty true to the original titles. I’ve previously played bits and pieces of Metroid but the sheer massive randomness of this game has always kept me away. Also it’s “really hard”. Or at least I used to think so. For this outing I decided to cop and use a downloaded map to find my way around. It’s surprisingly easy in Metroid to pick up nearly ever power up and accessory before fighting even one boss. This actually makes the bosses a bit of a push over.

Zero Mission changes things up a bit and gives you a built in map akin to the more modern Metroid titles. The trick here is, many of the areas have been altered slightly requiring special items to access the next area. In fact, Metroid Zero is extremely linear in its storyline.  Many times in the game you’ll find Chozo statues that will point you in the direction you need to head next.

Metroid was pretty ahead of it’s time with it’s free form game play mechanics. Metroid Zero stream lines this idea by adding modern puzzle limitations. The whole experience is very similar to Metroid 3 for the Super Nintendo. It’s still a bit limited by its controls.

In the original Metroid you could shoot, jump and shoot missiles. You access missiles by pressing select. Zero Missions adds a few more items to the mix from its Metroid 3 predecessor, namely Super Missiles and Power Bombs. This makes things a bit tricky however since the Game Boy Advance doesn’t have the same number of buttons as the SNES control pad. Select still cycles through the missile types but the more powerful attack is activated by pressing and holding the R button. The other shoulder button is used for a fairly useless diagonal shot. I can’t help but some sort of scanning power up would have been a better use for the L button. Especially given the number of hidden blocks and the large variety of ways needed to destroy them.

Zero Mission’s map doesn’t make finding everything easier however. I’d estimate that the overall map is at least twice the size of the original if you count the added on final area. Even without that section there are many additional secret hidden paths to find. Oh right, yeah, I said bonus area. I don’t want to spoil things too much but Zero mission doesn’t have quite the same ending you might remember. The bonus area also uses some different play mechanics than players are used to. Play mechanics leaning the irritatingly difficult side of things unfortunately.

Like I said, I don’t want to ruin it too much. Back to the main game. With Zero Mission’s expanded map there is also an expanded selection of bosses. Technically Ridley and Kraid are still the only true bosses but there are a whole slew of new mini bosses that must be defeated throughout your journey across Zebes. The old bosses also got a major facelift. Kraid is now the massive giant he was in Metroid 3, though he’s a lot more of a pushover this round. Ridley is also larger and more resembles his modern pterodactyl self.

In the original Metroid the bosses were not much larger than Samus and followed a simple attack pattern of “Throw lots of things at the player”. This actually made them a bit more difficult as the battles more or less broke down to pounding your opponent with missiles and hoping he died before you did. Zero Mission has more epic scripted boss battled and neither Ridley nor Kraid really do much damage with their attacks. Truth be told, New Ridley is easier to defeat if you let him pick you up so you can pound on him point blank with your missiles. Zero Mission is all around more forgiving of a game. In Metroid, when your health was depleted you were dead. Sure, you had a password but there was no direct continue or save feature. Also in the original Metroid, refilling your health is difficult to do, usually involving killing many of the little bug creatures popping out of the ground.  Also. Zero Mission has health restoring Chozo statues all over. Instantaneous relief.

Finishing the game also unlocks a playable version of the original Metroid.  The remake’s modern mechanics however make it a lot less of a chore to play and much more enjoyable

Review – Metroid: Samus Returns (3DS)

The Good

  • Solid game play from a solid franchise
  • Nice little additions and changes from the original Metroid II
  • Good visuals

The Bad

  • Repetitive enemies and play mechanics
  • Bosses are disproportionately difficult compared to everything else
  • Very linear game play for a “Metroidvania” style game.

In Depth

Metroid: Samus Returns is a 3DS update and remake of the original Metroid II on Game Boy.  It’s essentially to Metroid II, what Zero Mission is to the original Metroid.  The maps in Samus Returns are a little closer to the original Metroid II maps than Zero Mission and Metroid, but there are some changes and additions.  Samus Returns adds Super Missiles and power bombs to Samus’ arsenal, for example, and there is a map revealing scope mechanism as well as the addition fo the Grappling beam.  A lot of the added items are things added during Metroid 3, that became regular staples of the series.

The entire game also has a modern overhaul.  Instead of sprites, everything is polygons and the game is playable in 3D mode, though it is a 2D platform title.  Only one new boss uses the 3D mechanics in 3D space, everything else operates in classic 2D Metroid style.  I really enjoy this style of game, so I am admittedly biased towards the play style.  The game is lacking a bit in the Metroidvania department however.  A lot of the areas have 2 or 3 main path loops that the player must traverse and there isn’t a lot of backtracking done aside from picking up items later, and a lot of this backtracking needs to be done close to the end of the game since you don’t even find the weapon needed to unlock these items until later in the game.  The game itself is broken up into 8 Areas, all generically named “Area”.  The Areas are gate blocked by special pedestals that only open the way after collecting a certain number of Metroid DNA samples.  There isn’t a lot of explanation to what these pedestals are but it’s most likely Chozo related, in classic Metroid fashion.

The core of the game is fun, and everything about the remake works well and helps flesh out the game play from the original title.  Metroid II has always been one of the weaker titles in the series and fleshing it out and giving it a bit more connection to the world of Metroid at large.  Despite taking place on the homeworld of the alien Metroid creatures, it’s always felt a little separated.  Partly because even the Metroids themselves are all mutated “mature” versions that don’t fit the usual Bubble with Claws image of what a Metroid is supposed to be.

Which leads into the core problem with this game, and with Metroid II.  The basic plot involves killing Metroids of various types, more powerful than the last, in order to proceed through the game.  There are 4 types of Metroids, not counting the Queen, and you fight each type several times.  These 40 fights end up being extremely samey as a result.  This problem is exacerbated by Alpha and Gamma Metroid being, more or less the same thing and each of the Omega Metroid battles are literally identical.  There is some variation in the fights by using different environments, sometimes over lava or damaging plants or around movement hindering water, but they all use the same general mechanics until you each the Omega Metroids.  Some of the battles have these moments where the Metroid runs off into a nearby room, which honestly just makes things even more tedious since it mostly just means passing a simple and annoying ball mode tunnel puzzle to progress the fight.

This repetition in boss fights isn’t helped by the normal level enemies either, there’s something like 6 or 7 different ones in different colors that you face… over… and over… and over…  They respawn extremely quickly as well, so sometimes just traveling back and forth a room you get to battle the same enemies over and over.  The game also introduces this gimmicky melee counter attack.  Enemies will charge you, you counter them, then you effectively one shot them if the counter hits.  If you miss, or just try to kill the enemy, you get to shoot it normally, often a dozen or more times.  The whole thing is designed around encounter, wait for charge, counter attack, kill, which itself is slow and tedious the 100th time you perform the action.

There is a new boss that’s added to the game that shows up a few times.  A large Chozo digging robot pops up early on, awakened by Samus.  It later shows up during a stage sequence where you must outrun it’s massive destructive drill arms while passing over and through obstacles.  Eventually you battle it out with the boss.  It’s probably the most difficult boss in the game, though not the final boss, and it’s a nice change of pace from the repetition of the Metroids.

Despite the repetition, it’s a fun game.  It’s not the best Metroid title but it’s a welcome update to one of the less enjoyably and probably less played games int he Metroid franchise.  The new additions do a lot of good freshening things up and the updated graphics are a great step up from the cramped old Game Boy title.

Review – Saints Row the Third (PC, Xbox360, PS3)

2011 – Volition – 1 Player (Campaign) Multiplayer (Online)
PC, PS3, Xbox360

The Good

  • Loads of fun Gameplay
  • Reminiscent of classic GTA
  • Amazing custom character creation with voices and interactions not just “faceless”

The Bad

  • The missions are kind of just a repetition of a handful of mini games
  • Kooky level may be too much for some people’s taste.

In Depth

Saints Row really has a comeback story behind it. The first game is apparently rather terrible. the second game is better but not great. It’s already saddled with being a “GTA knockoff” by default no matter what it does. Somewhere Volition has managed to get something really right because Saints Row the Third seems to be quite a hit among gamers. So much of a hit that THQ had decided to focus more on games like Saints Row over things like it’s failing Wii Tablet thing (U-Draw).

This thing is pretty long and image heavy, so you’ll have to click through to get the whole thing.

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Review – American Truck Simulator (PC)

The Good

  • Strong Developer Support
  • Sprawling environment to explore
  • Straightforward Gameplay

The Bad

  • Free drive could be more flexible
  • No official online multiplayer
  • Repetitive gameplay

There are a lot of Simulation games out there covering a crazy array of subjects from Farming to Forklift driving.  To some extent, some laws regarding video game content in some European countries can be blamed for this trend.  It’s also nice to be able to do even simple things that you can’t normally do.  A lot of these simulation titles are flat out garbage, with mediocre graphics and very little realism in terms of game play, the few that are decent though really tend to be shinning stars to some extend in the gaming world.

Two of the best example of good Simulation titles are the Farming Simulator and the Euro Truck Simulator titles.  What really sets these games apart is the depth they go to simulating not just the basic aspect of doing some job, but also the nuance of running the entire business.  Euro Truck Simulator is particularly popular due to just how much of Europe has been recreated in a virtual environment for players to cruise around in delivering their cargo.  The creators of Euro Truck Simulator have set their sites on recreating a second continent for Truck Driving, with American Truck Simulator.  They have stated that their plan is to do all of the United States in various DLC packs (I’m not sure if they are including Hawaii and Alaska).  The base game includes California, Nevada and New Mexico.  It’s not a 1:1 experience or anything but the basic idea is there, which is great.

This plan has been put on hold a bit however since the developers are currently working to rescale the world they have created to allow for more accurate interchanges and a better feeling of long range driving.  Essentially, they are remaking what they have already put out to make the entire experience better, which just goes to show how dedicated they are to their cause.

There are a ton of little details to help complicate the experience that contribute to the Simulation experience.  A low powered truck won’t be able to effectively pull a super heavy load.  Over time, you will run out of gas unless you stop to refuel your fuel.  You also will grow tired, which causes you to briefly “black out”, unless you stop at a designated rest area to sleep.  You lose points (money) for running into other vehicles and walls, if you speed and get caught by the cops you get a ticket, though it’s often possible to speed and not get caught, especially on “the back roads”.  When you arrive at the destination you get a chance to earn bonus experience by just dropping off the trailer, or executing a perfect back in maneuver.

The real enjoyment of this game comes from it’s laid back gameplay.  There isn’t any real pressure, you aren’t racing against a bunch of other vehicles or having to worry about who will shoot you as you cruise around the world delivering various cargo trailers.  Once you’ve earned enough money to buy your own truck you can even free drive at your own leisure.

The free drive mode is nice, though it kind of feels like it could be better.  While free driving, you don’t carry a trailer, which kind of makes the Truck part of the game a little less fun.  You also still have to worry about the game’s mechanics, such as speeding tickets, refueling, and paying for repairs.  This can all add up pretty quick if you are a poor driver.  It would be nice to be able to turn all of the game off and just goof around in this expansive world.

It also takes a while to “unlock” free drive mode as well, since you’ll have to save up a hefty chunk of change in order to buy even a cheap truck.  Over time though as you earn money you can buy bigger and nicer trucks, as well as trick them out with custom paint and gear.  You can eventually start hiring other drivers to run jobs for your company as well, to earn some passive income.

All of this is a little moot though since there isn’t a built in way to play online.  There are 3rd party methods but it would be nice to have an official way to cruise around the US with your friends, or even see strangers cruising around in their fancy trucks.  I imagine there would be issues with griefing where other players just run around trying to wreck people.

It’s also possible that I’m expecting too much out of this title, it is a Simulation game, it’s not “GTA with Semis”.  Also don’t take too much stake in these complaints, they are issues that could be better, but the basic idea and game is pretty fun and it’s a good low pressure experience.  If the developers stick to their plan to do the entire US, it could definitely turn into something really interesting, as you could virtually cruise from Los Angeles to New York.