Monday, January 31, 2011

Monster Hunter Tri (Wii)

Play Time: 45min

What Happened:
I've heard people talk excitedly about the Monster Hunter series (although I think usually about PSP versions), so I thought this might be cool to check out. Also, Issam wanted to buy a classic controller so he could play Ogre Battle 64 on my Wii, and this game comes with one. ;)

I played for about 45min last night - and although I understand that this isn't enough time to get a real, fully-rounded view of anything (technically I'm still hovering in the tutorial zone), I have some initial impressions that I wanted to capture.

So far in the game, I have created my character (who wears underwear until you buy armor)and arrived in this village which has just been hit by an earthquake. I think they've hired me to kill a specific monster, but for right now I'm just supposed to help out in general by killing things and gathering resources. I bought some armor, learned how to brutally massacre dinosaurs who are just minding their own business and eating grass, harvest meat from them, harvest other things (fungus, herbs), learned about my stamina meter and how it works, and something about cooking meat for myself. Also I've been introduced to a whole slew of tools, and places to store things, and narrative things. I can buy armor and weapons, or something about finding materials and having someone make me something.

What I Liked:
Neat opening cinematic. It's a little long... but it's cool. Here, have a look! It's a violent, action-filled world!

Graphics. Probably every review ever points it out, but this game is definitely graphically amazing for the Wii. Also, in general, I like the designs for everything that's 3D. The world is definitely neat looking.

Character customization. I think it's pretty much the same as other games, but I still like it. ;) This definitely seems like a game that calls for it. I liked the amount of control I was given - just enough options for things, pretty much a full range of colors for things. Also I thought it was cool that I could change my character's voice. I did find it odd that my character started off just wearing underwear though.

Creatures and wandering. What a neat world! I like dinosaurs and cool monsters! I like running around! I want to see more of it. Also you have a talking cat servant! Neat! (I hope not all cats are servants though?? That would be unfair...)

Jumping into bed. I dunno, when you jump into the bed to save, your character plays this cute like, dive into bed. It has character and makes me smile. I don't think my character has done anything else like this though.

What I Didn't Like:
"Ghost Chief" tutorial system. When you get away from the village and start learning how to use your weapons and gather resources, random text bubbles pop up which are apparently the village chief speaking to you... even though he's obviously not there. I thought this was a really odd way to handle tutorials.

Killing Monsters. OK, so I've only killed one so far, and I felt TERRIBLE about it. For your first go at monster hunting, you take out a herbivore, which is just hanging out and not threatening you. It definitely felt weird to just go up and brutally massacre it. This makes me think that I will not like the game moving forward... but I'm sort of hoping that maybe I could get more into it if it's "kill or be killed" --- but I'm still going to be actively seeking monsters out, which aren't hurting anyone. I dunno.. it just feels wrong. Maybe if there was some humane way to kill the herbivores?

Harvesting. Oh man... harvesting is super tedious. You press 'a' next to a plant, or some fungus, and you watch your character scoop stuff off of the ground for like.. 10 seconds? That wouldn't be so bad, but you get different amounts off of different things - so far I've found that I can get like 5-6 deposits of fungus from one plant, which means watching that animation that many times. Granted - I don't know enough yet to know if I really need to be getting that much? Just playing on game conventions, it seems like I should harvest until there's nothing left. Maybe I'll find something different the more I play as I learn what these resources are used for.

Too much text that I don't care about. Godddd there's just so much text when I talk to people.. it's long... and I don't care.... just tell me where to go and let me leave!!! .. Basically, if you're going to make me talk to someone in a game, make them say something interesting. I am simple minded... I want to be entertained and not feel like I'm working. ;)

Truck driving traversal. Traversal feels a bit odd to me - you sort of start slow and quickly move to an all out-sprint every time you want to walk anywhere (so like, I can't just slowly walk - it's all running). The built in acceleration and deceleration make your character feel super heavy. I didn't notice it after awhile, but it took some getting used to - particularly since I start off in a village, in relatively small spaces, so the sprint feels odd.

Picking who I talk to. A number of times I was sure I was addressing one person when I hit talk, but it turns out I hit someone else for dialogue. Just a small thing, but sort of annoying when everyone's saying multiple boxes of dialogue.

Piers that go nowhere. The first village is this cool, floating village - which I really like, but there are a lot little piers jutting out into the water, and you can't see the end of them - you'd think this would be a place to find something cool, or someone to talk to when you walk to the end... but none of the piers have anything like that. They're just piers. I feel like I fell for a trick.

UI. The UI is really inconsistent! It looks like a different team made the character customization UI, 'ghost chief tutorial's dialogue box is different than living chief, and I have no idea what game the loading screen is supposed to be from. It's picky, but there's definitely a lack of consistency.

Armor & Weaponry. I know... I can't really say anything about this yet.. but... I really don't like dealing with armor...

Butts. OK, there's something I've noticed through the years regarding .. 'showing parts of guys that you don't normally see' - be it full on nudity, implied nudity (Beowulf), or showing some guy's butt cheeks. You have to understand that for the most part, your audience is going to be too immature to not stop for a moment and giggle; it will decrease the seriousness of any scene, and will probably pull the player out of it. You need to be fully aware of this before using it. I found it distracting and disruptive (as Issam and I both went "woah!!"). How can I ever take the chief's son seriously now?

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:
I'm sure you can guess by the tone of this entry that I'm not super psyched about this game. That being said, I don't think 45min is enough to really judge a game like this where you can rack up hundreds of hours of gameplay. People say it's fun, so I want to see if I can have fun playing this game!!

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Elebits (Wii)

Play Time: 20min

What Happened:
Issam played a level (7min), I played a level (10min), and then Issam played about 5min of the next level. Somewhere around 5min into my level, I noticed that I was starting to feel motion sick... which is why we stopped playing.

This is an interesting game! It was one of the first to come out on the Wii, so the tutorial includes a bit about basic wii motion, which is cool. :) The game opens with the story (told through charming drawings!) about a little boy (you) whose parents study "Elebits" - which are the source of electricity in this world (I think). Because they are so devoted to their work, you're jealous and you hate Elebits and wish they didn't exist. Next, the power goes out, and your parents rush off. You want to watch TV, which involves power - so you need to use your Dad's gravity gun to catch Elebits (at which point the story premise that you want to watch TV promptly disappears).

The game is played in first person - you use the nunchuk to move, the wiimote to look, and you grab stuff with your gun with A. As you shoot Elebits to grab them, your gun becomes increasingly more powerful, and you can pick up and move more stuff, to find the Elebits which are hidden behind everything. Also as you gather energy, you're able to turn on appliances, which makes large groups of Elebits appear. Everything movable (which is pretty much everything as you keep gaining the power to move more) is controlled by a physics simulation, needless to say, in each level you basically end up making a huge mess of everything in a room in the pursuit of Elebits.

What I Liked:

Intro Cinematic. The visual style for the intro was really cool!

Elebits. They're cute! They make cute noises, they act in cute ways (sleeping, or running towards cookies with hearts over their heads), and they look cute.

Trashing Rooms. Physics simulation games are always fun when you can move pretty much everything. It's just fun to be able to pick up boxes and dressers and whatnot and toss them around.

Mechanics. I think the overall idea of this game is really different and interesting! Pretty much everything is satisfying. Zapping Elebits to capture them feels good. Throwing boxes around is fun. I like the way you gain the ability to lift more - there is a clear feeling of progression in each level. You feel satisfied when you can turn on an appliance and a bunch of Elebits pop out. It's a game of simple pleasures.

What I Didn't Like:
Motion-sickness! This one really isn't Konami's fault - it seems I get sick in any game where you look with one control and move with another. :(

Cameras. Sometimes cameras felt cramped, and I had a hard time getting my bearings.

UI. Felt rushed and unloved. Menus were sort of ugly, and just existed to get you from one place to another.

Style Meshing. The intro cinematic was really cool - but the menus and gameplay seemed to be all completely different visually. It would have been nice if they were all tied together better. This would have been a really different looking game if they'd gotten some of the style from the cinematic into the gameplay.

Voice acting. As cool as the intro cinematic looked, the voices were pretty terrible.

Motivation. As I mentioned, the pretense for catching Elebits seems to have been quickly forgotten about. I don't think this is a big deal, since ultimately this is a simple game - but it's definitely something that I noticed.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:

Unfortunately, because it made me sick, I don't think I'll be picking it up again. If this wasn't the case, I would put this game in the category of a good way to pass time on a rainy day - nothing more or less. I'm not really dying to know what's going to happen in the story - although this game has done a better job than some of the more recent games I've played (DK Country and Bowser's Inside Story) in that I sort of feel like there might be a story here, and I'm vaguely curious about how it might turn out (sad boy, Elebit disappearance - did he cause it with his wish? Will he just stay in the house, or will he venture out? Is there more to this story?) - but this curiosity isn't particularly pressing, since the game has given me no real indication that there will be more to the story.

Donkey Kong Country Returns (Wii)

Play Time: 1hr 15min
2 Player

History with the Franchise:
I was exactly the right age to have been the target audience for DK Country when it came out, and I remember playing it a lot. I always liked it and I even owned the soundtrack, but other than that, I don't remember a lot about it.. other than the animals that you rode for sections of gameplay, and shooting out of barrels. I also played Diddy Kong racing for 8 hours straight once when I was home sick from school in the 7th grade, and I remember finding it extremely frustrating, but continuing to play. :)

What Happened:
Issam and I played 2 player, with me as DK. We played through the first world (Jungle), and quit after defeating the first boss (who took us like.. 5-6 tries to beat)

What I Liked:
Visuals. I don't need to say too much - just look at stills and images from this game. They're awesome. Every animation oozes personality, and weight is handled extremely well. Also, there's a level that you can pay to unlock, which is neat, since the whole level is in silhouette. This works very well. I almost wonder if the animators just wanted to show off how everything they animated had great silhouettes. ;)

Weight. As mentioned above, the animations convey weight very well, but this is also because of how it is handled in terms of input. I think they struck a really nice balance between making DK seem heavy by making him slower to change directions etc, but responsive enough that you always feel in control of him.

Presentation. Overall, everything was just presented really well. The level map was cool looking and interesting, menus were fun, level intros and outros were polished. Each time I entered a level, there was a slightly different intro in terms of what I saw when the camera panned into starting position. In one case, there was a funny looking giraffe, in another case, I could see some puzzle pieces that I could then go and pick up. The outros are fun as well - the sort of 300-esque slow motion punch (slow motion punches may be a bit overdone, but it's because they're cool) - which gives you an opportunity for a bonus by moving your wiimote and nunchuk at the correct time. Really small touches that add up and show that a high level of care was put into this game - everything is intended to amuse me in some way.

Cinematics. The intro cinematic was handled really well. (Also, a note as an animator, the whole story was told with no dialogue ;) ) I liked how the hypnosis was handled with swirling lines and music notes. It was just very well done and clever. The intro for the Jungle boss was done well also - he was a lovable character, although we had to fight him (understanding that all of the animals we're beating up are hypnotized).

Difficulty. For the most part, I thought it was a good blend of being difficult without being frustrating (some exceptions, see below). We both died a fair number of times in each level, but I never felt that we had to go back so far that it was a huge inconvenience.

Barrels. We came across a couple of sections which were the standard DK barrel timing mechanic - you shoot from one barrel into another, and now either your barrel is moving side to side, and you need to line up with something, or there are obstacles/goodies circling the next barrel and you need to time yourself to get them. I think it is the variety of setups in these sections which makes them so fun. I might go from a barrel which shoots me automatically, to one where my barrel switches between 3 positions and I need to choose the right one, and then in the next I need to wait until the large, Thwomp-esque moving obstacle is in a safe position, etc.

Mine Carts. In one level there was a section where you rode on a mine cart, which I feel was handled extremely well. It was the same as every other platformer with this type of mechanic - you had to jump to avoid things directly in your path (like flaming enemies) or jump to reach puzzle pieces or bananas, or your track was about to run out, so you needed to hop to a different track. I think the reason it sticks out to me is because in the end, there is a brief section where the camera comes in closer to your characters - so you can't see as much track in front of you, and tension is briefly increased - and then it comes back out, and you go down a huge, steep incline, which I think presents one or two more obstacles, and then the end of the level. Because of the increase in tension, from the pull in, and then the incline, this moment feels extremely dramatic.

What I Didn't Like:
Some Collision Issues. There were a number of times when I was positive that I could make a jump and I couldn't. That's always frustrating. I suspect that the art was making edges less clear to me when I was trying to think quickly.

Jungle Boss Fight. We took forever trying to beat this guy! ...which is funny since once we figured it out, it was fairly simple. I personally had a lot of issues the first 2-3 times we tried to beat him, where I was positive that I was clear to jump over him and I ended up in his mouth (collision??). Then we found out after a few tries that when he's in one state, if you jump on his back, he immediately charges (so if I'm DK and I'm in front of him, and Diddy nails him, I'm instantly hit). I don't think we ever really figured out the pattern of which state he was in when this happened. I think overall we took 5-6 tries.

Placement of Checkpoints. Ok, really this was only an issue once - which was in the barrel level. There is a section which is your first long period of continuously shooting yourself out of barrels, which is a fun section, but your check point is before it, and it's got a bunch of new things in it, so you die a lot. You're learning about barrel timing, so it's easy to mess up a few times before you get it right. Also, towards the end, there's a part where columns fall on your barrel if you don't shoot out of them right away -- there's no way to know this is going to happen until it's happened to you once (which kills you) and it's towards the end! Now you have to do the whole section over again...

Motivation. We beat the first world, but I don't feel like we accomplished anything. It's not like the story moved forward, or even like we were given an indication that we were one step closer to reaching an ultimate destination. I beat up the bad guy that hypnotized the rhino (?) we were fighting, but was he even a special, boss-type bad guy? How many worlds are there? I think I personally require a way to measure my progress in a game or I have a hard time feeling like I'm getting anywhere.

Stuff I'm Not Sure About:
Items. You can buy items in game and use them, but as we learned quickly, they only last for one level. First we were confused that they weren't automatically equipped, then when the next level started, we were confused that we didn't see them anymore, and thought we had to equip them again. Then we figured out that they were only intended for one level. It was just a bit confusing. The choice of items is pretty cool though - you can have an extra heart, different numbers of balloons (revives your fallen partner) something to make you invincible for a burst, and a parrot that squawks when you're near a puzzle pieces.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:
Ultimately, this is a fun game, but it's still just a platformer - and by the 'just' I mean that there isn't anything to it besides the gameplay. It's a fun game to pass the time with, but nothing is really pushing me to come back for more.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Just Dance & Just Dance 2 (Wii)

Just Dance: Total Play Time: ~10 hours?
Just Dance 2: Total Play Time: ~6-7 hours?

History with the Franchise/Genre:
Before I begin - Yes - although I definitely don't spend a ton of time gaming (see this blog's introduction if you don't follow) - I am definitely a HUGE fan of the music rhythm genre. I may have been among the first to pick up and play Guitar Hero (granted it's because a friend introduced me to it), I've spent entirely too many quarters and gotten too many pinched toes playing arcade DDR, I've played Taiko Drum Master and I bought DJ Hero 2 the day that it came out (which is visually AMAZING, by the way). I enjoy the rhythm/music genre!

That being said, I am NOT a dancer, in any way. I spent my whole life avoiding dancing at any cost, and the only reason I ever started playing DDR to begin with (which I honestly believe had been created expressly for the purpose of torturing me and making me feel awkward) was because my college friends were obsessed with it - and it was a choice between playing, or spending my Fridays and Saturdays alone. I wasn't really much of a 'mover' in general until the last couple of years - in which running has become one of my main hobbies - and at some point while I was becoming more fit, I realized how fascinating dance is, and wished I had some sort of user-friendly 'in,' which would teach me what to do with my awkward self, since arrows on the floor don't cut it. Enter: Just Dance! (I'll stop talking about myself now...)

(Image of Just Dance 2)

What Happened:
So I was going to just write about Just Dance 2, since I just played it for an hour and 15min, but I realized that I kept writing 'as compared to Just Dance' and figured I should just cover them both. They generally hit the same points.

Honestly I'm not sure how much time I've put into either of these games, but I think I've made a good approximation. Mainly I play them for an hour or so by myself when I don't feel like going to the gym (they're not as good as running, but they're better than doing nothing). I've also occasionally played them at work, for a quick break, and with friends.

Both games are fairly simple, if you haven't played them. You start up the game, click on the "Dance" mode, and pick a song. There are no difficulties to choose from, but songs show a 1-3 rating for intensity and complexity (I think that's thw wording? I stopped paying attention to them at some point). You hold the Wiimote in your right hand (no nunchuk required), and you follow along with the on-screen dancer as though they were your reflection in a mirror. You are also guided by icons representing upcoming dance moves, which appear on the bottom of the screen. Both games display your scores on-screen, and each move is rated with 'Boo's, 'X's, 'OK's, 'Yeah's or 'Perfect's as you play (like DDR).

Just Dance 1 has other gameplay modes, but I tried them once, decided they weren't very fun and promptly forgot about them. I'm honestly not sure what other modes Just Dance 2 has... since I always just immediately proceed to gameplay (I know what I want). I do know that Just Dance 2 has a "Just Sweat" mode - which you'd think I'd be interested in since I play to work out, but I don't imagine it would be very different from playing 'non-stop shuffle' - maybe it displays calories? I don't really put stock in video game calories. It has no idea how much effort I'm putting into playing.. since it's only tracking my right hand.

Before I go into specifics, I'd like to make one point that I usually make to people that are interested in trying this series - I'm not entirely sure if either of these games actually qualify as 'games' as opposed to 'toys'. Obviously, with all of my praise, this isn't a negative whatsoever, I just think it's interesting - I really don't play these games to reach any sort of in game goal. I have no idea what my scores are most of the time, if my saves were wiped out, nothing would happen, it's not like I'm trying to complete or 100% all of the songs - I simply play this game because I really enjoy dancing to the songs. :)

(Image of Just Dance 1)

What I Liked:
Choreography. This comes first because for both of these games, this is really all you're doing. In my opinion, they don't need anything else because it's just so much fun to do the actual dances. They manage to achieve the right balance of move simplicity and repetition - that even if I get frustrated by a complicated move, I know it will come up again and I can try and master it. That being said, I find that I like the choreography better in Just Dance 1, because it's generally simpler. There are less multi-part moves, and there is a lot less jumping (which works better for me, since I live in an apartment). It's just a little bit easier to pick up on the dance - which I find that I like (probably because I'm really really not a dancer). That being said, from the reception that Just Dance 1 got, I think it's understandable that they wanted to take the choreography up to the next level in the sequel - but I definitely enjoy 1 just a little bit more.

Playfulness. This is an overall quality, but I wanted to call it out. I like games that don't take themselves too seriously, and I think that's why I enjoy this game so, so much. Most of the choreography is downright (and I don't like this word, but it's necessary) silly. In every song - be it goofy, serious, or 'sexy' - you will find yourself giggling (another, completely necessary word - none other will do!) I think this is at the root of this game's widespread appeal - it seems to be the perfect, tasteful blend of taking itself seriously enough, but not too much. It is a gem in this way. :)

Songs! Obviously, for a music/rhythm game, this is one of the most important things! I love the songs in both games, but for Just Dance 2, I find that even if there are a couple of songs I don't particularly enjoy, the fun of the dance makes up for it - so I can just play on shuffle and have a blast. Just Dance 1 however does have a couple of songs that I really do avoid. I love the mix between songs that everyone would know, like Tik Tok, or Viva Las Vegas and songs I've never heard before like Rasputin or Acceptable in the 80s. Song lengths are good, all around - no song feels too long (so that in the cases where I do feel frustrated, I don't feel trapped). I also think the number of songs is good for both - I know that this genre tends to be a little song list numbers oriented, but all of the songs are catchy and fun, so the is a high level of replayability. Also there is DLC available for Just Dance 2 (which I haven't purchased yet, but I might do it because they look fun -- not because I'm sick of my current list).

Menu Simplicity. Both games have simple menus! All I want to do when I play this game, is get to the music and dance, and they let me do this quickly. I think there may be even less steps in Just Dance 2? 2 allows me to set up player profiles, which is helpful - and when I pick up the game it chooses my profile by default, so I don't have to spend any time there. I believe there is also a chosen profile for default, so I don't even have to worry about it if I don't want to.

Visuals. I love the visual style! It's fun and simple. Also I think it was a great decision to use live dancers, as opposed to animation. Dancing is one of the harder things to animate, and looks terrible when done incorrectly - also this is something that real people can do, and doesn't require animation.

Icons! This is sort of dumb, but in Just Dance one, you can choose an icon before the start of every song - which is surprisingly enjoyable. Would I like to be the cat, the hot dog, or the diamond ring? It makes for a sort of random bit of fun when you're playing with your friends. :) I miss them in JD2.

(Image of Just Dance 2)

What I Didn't Like:
Scoring! I suspect that it's mainly because of the poor scoring of the first Just Dance that I regard these games as toys instead of games. Scoring is basically random in JD1 - sometimes it seems to work well, but if you pay attention to it, you end up getting frustrated when you'd swear you'd done something perfectly and it didn't register, or you get pounded by your friend's score when you know you were moving about the same. It is better in JD2, but it's definitely still not perfect. Thankfully - this game is super fun, and I don't care about my score at all. That being said, if I were to pay attention to that sort of thing, I dislike the score HUD in JD2 - they shrank it into a little circle instead of a big bar, which is much harder to keep track of while you're playing. It's not like they really needed the screen real estate for anything else, and visually, I thought the bars were cool.

Score comparing. Again, it doesn't really matter - but if I were to pay attention to the score, or want a goal in this game, I would want them to make score comparing a lot easier. It's a little easier in JD1, where 100% is 1000 points (although you can get more than 100%, so that's confusing), but in JD2 it goes at least a digit higher. I can't remember abstract numbers! Give me letter grades like DDR! :) I don't think either game allows you to see your high score on a song (maybe it's hidden somewhere?) - but you get a 'high score beat' when you beat it. Because of this, there is no way to track your progress (which, in this case, is OK with me).

Next move icons. If I were to nitpick, I do think that the icons, at least in JD2 are occasionally confusing. The icon might show a pose where the left hand is close to the body, so I assume that is my first pose - but then I've struck the pose in reverse and I'm off. It doesn't happen a lot, but just every once in awhile.

3:07 in Rasputin! You can't do that with a Wiimote in your hand!! It would be crushed! On that note, sometimes I hit buttons on my Wiimote when I'm playing.. it's sort of awkward during some moves.

Loading times. They're definitely a little long. I think this mostly bothers me since I generally play for exercise.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:
You can probably tell from the rest of the article. I'm not tired of these games yet, and I don't imagine I'll ever really get sick of them (unless they go the way of DDR and the song selection gets bad. :) )

Also - here's a Just Dance 1 pumpkin I carved last Halloween!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story (DS) - Session 2

Total Play Time 1:15

What Happened:
Continued onwards inside of Bowser. Did a lot of tutorials - learned about special attacks, and how to switch between the Bros. and Bowser. Also found some Toads.

What I Liked:

Switching between inside & outside. This is sort of the main gimmick of the game, and although I haven't experienced it too much, I really love the idea. The gameplay opens up so that I can make the switch at any point in gameplay - where before I had assumed it would be highly controlled. I'm curious to see how open it actually is, or if the story will end up dictating who I should be playing as even though I can technically switch whenever I want. I also like the simple decision to put Bowser on the stop screen and the bros. on the bottom - as well as having X & Y control Bowser and A & B control the bros.

Special attacks. I've only unlocked one so far, but I found the idea really fun and surprising. Basically, special attacks are limited attacks which require the brothers to work together to deal damage. Mario kicks a shell into the enemy, it rebounds off of the enemy to Luigi who keeps it going. It's just a simple timing mini-game, as alternate between A & B to keep the damage going as long as possible. I'm excited to see more.

Combat speed. For the most part, I dislike games where combat is in a separate mode (i.e., turn-based combat) because I always feel like it takes too long - you get an animation when you enter, you choose your attacks, there's a lot of waiting, you get an animation and stats when you finish (Pokemon..) but I think they do a fairly good job in this game of keeping you entertained. A lot of this is because you're actually doing something during combat, whether you're attacking or defending (all timing games, etc), but also they keep the pacing fast. There's not really any time lost at the start or end of a battle.

In game items. Not the mushrooms you use to control HP, but the actual in-game props you use to problem solve. I've only gained one so far, which is the hammer, but I love how you use it both in wandering around and in combat. It's a little thing, but I wish if Mario was holding the hammer when you went into combat, he would also have it ready by default (you have to switch your attack from jump to hammer currently).

Extra hit. If you engage a baddie in battle by jumping on it, as opposed to simply walking into it, you deal damage as soon as you get into combat mode. It's a simple, but really awesome addition to keep the 2 gameplay modes feeling just a little more connected (since this style of combat is always a little disconnected).

Globins. Globins are blocks which live in Bowser's body and give you information, or serve as save points when you hit them. The writing is just really good all around in this game - but these characters in particular always crack me up (replacing random nouns with "globin" in a sentence. Simple.. but it makes me laugh.)

What I Didn't Like:

Long tutorials. The perfect pace from the first 30min changed a little bit when I first started playing again, as you get hit by sort of a large number of tutorials right when you get into Bowser's body. I wish they had found a way to break these up a little more. For the most part they were kept pretty concise, and interesting, but I think there were probably ways to trim them down a little more.

Overly repetitive battles. I met a couple of blocks of a few too many enemies in a row - maybe 3-4 bad guys, nothing in between them, no way to pass them but fight. This sort of made me groan. The combat system is fun, but it definitely feels repetitive to do the same thing so many times in a row and feel like you're not progressing.

Couldn't figure out how to save. For the most part, saves points have been really plentiful, at about 10min intervals (which I think is perfect) - but last night when I'd played as far as I could as was on the verge of falling asleep, I couldn't find a save point! Really what had happened was that I was stuck in the story - one of the Toads went missing, and someone told me to find him in Bowser's body, so I spent like 25min searching for him. Finally, after searching everywhere, I figured I should switch up to playing Bowser - and then I immediately found a save point. This was annoying! I felt that I had clearly been instructed to find the missing Toad, which would require me to stay inside Bowser.

Clothing. Ok, ok, it's no fair for me to be bringing this up yet since I haven't had any experience with it, but this game has a sort of 'armor' setup built in which makes me groan. I can't imagine how it would actually help this game in any way. I guess I'll wait and see.

How Do I Feel About Continuing:

I'm still really enjoying this game a lot, and want to continue - but also I don't feel any urgency about continuing. It just sounds like a fun thing to do, but it's not like I 'can't wait to see what happens next' - I'm also not really feeling a sense of overall progression. Have I moved towards a goal? How much of this game is left? Would I still be playing it if I wasn't writing this blog?

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Mario & Luigi: Bowser’s Inside Story (DS) - Session 1

Play time: ~30min

What Happened:
Although I only just got into gameplay at the end of my 30min, I wanted to record my impressions before I forget them. The game opens with a cinematic of some toadstools at home getting ready for dinner - this ends in catastrophe when it is revealed that the head of household has come down with "the blorbs" - which, told through charming, newspaper style narrative (the image of the father fades to a sepia tone with the headline "THE BLORBS") is a mysterious, incurable illness that's sweeping the Mushroom Kingdom.

Mario and Luigi meet with the princess and the toadstool council to figure out what to do. On the way, I learn how to control Mario and Luigi - the game is shown in an isometric view, and there is some platforming (I learned through some trial and error that the brothers are joined by an invisible tether, so when you jump Mario onto a block, he'll get stuck until Luigi joins him - I was sure I had discovered a bug when this first happened). Actions are executed through a context-sensitive 'action button' (A & B - one for Mario, one for Luigi). At the castle, Bowser bursts through the door, and becomes combative upon realizing that I am there - which begins my combat tutorial. (I'll get into the positives and negatives below). We boot Bowser outside - and then, I find myself in control of the "King of Awesome" himself! I learn how to control him (punching rocks is INCREDIBLY satisfying - see below), then he gets tricked into eating a magic mushroom, which makes him swallow everything (there's more to it than that, but I'm going into too much detail...)

Mario and Luigi are amongst the swallowed, so now control is transferred back to Mario (who has been separated from his brother), and at this point I got too tired to keep going and stopped for the night.

What I Liked:
Narrative. This is one of those, few, perfect examples of a game where I don’t actually mind the amount of sitting, waiting and watching through the first 20-30min of a game! Every time a cinematic takes over, I’m excited to see what’s going to happen – because from the very beginning of the game, what’s happening is interesting! For the most part, every bit of narrative is told in a way that it doesn’t feel like it holds a lower place than gameplay – there is care in crafting jokes, and simple, fun animation which supports the dialogue. For example, the decision to have Luigi rudely snooze with his head on the conference room table when the brothers join the debate over how to save the kingdom. Also, Bowser refers to himself as the 'King of Awesome.' :)

Visuals. All-around fun and awesome. Mario and Luigi have a little bit of a strange walk cycle, but I find it funny, so it doesn't bother me too much. There are loads of little (I would imagine) one-off animations which add a whole other dimension of life to the game. For example, when Luigi (who is still snoozing) starts to get inhaled by Bowser, he clings to the table in a desperate attempt to save himself, which actually made me laugh out loud.

Being Bowser. Any game that lets you be a big, comical baddy is alright in my book. The best thing about Bowser is that he feels fun to play - he has a sense of weight and power - and punching rocks out of existence is incredibly satisfying. You feel like a beast.

Pacing. So far, almost everything has felt like it's taken exactly the right amount of time. For me to say this is a big deal, as it is generally my problem with most games. I only played for 30min, but I feel like a lot happened, even though I've only just begun to get into gameplay. I never felt like I was stuck doing homework to get to the next step.

What I Didn’t Like:
Combat tutorial. Although I thought the tutorial was incredibly charming in presentation (at one point my instructor asks Bowser to 'kindly shoot flames' my way), there are issues with learning the combo system. You can tap and double tap at a certain point in Mario's jump to inflict more damage - but each time you're shown how to do so, the teacher freezes the action - so it's actually really hard to get a sense of the timing. I would suggest that they make you do it correctly a couple of times before moving on to the double tap, or maybe give you an X in your trajectory to show where the sweet spot is. Because I struggled with this, the Bowser battle took FOREVER, since I kept only dealing 1 point of damage, and had to keep guessing at the timing.

Mario & Luigi tether. As I mentioned above, it was just confusing the first couple of times it happened - I thought there was a collision bug, since Mario was on a small platform and couldn't walk all of the way across it. On the second or third platform I figured out that I needed to have Luigi come with me. It seems like sort of a short tether.

How Do I Feel About Continuing?:
I’m going to go play some more right now! I am excited to really start digging into gameplay.