The turn-based strategy game for the handheld console is a joy to play while retaining some bit of fun and whimsy with their 8-bit character battles. The challenges increase as the game progresses, but you and your characters will be well battle tested by then.
Your journey begins as part of a lord’s retinue while he attempts to vanquish a rising evil in the land. Chrom (not Crom as in Conan the Barbarian) starts as a young, headstrong prince, fighting bandits and quelling the borders between his country and an aggressive neighbor. You are found by his group with no memories and barely knowing your own name. Thus, your adventure begins!
Battles are laid out almost like a board game. A square grid covers the terrain and tiny 8-bit characters represent your friends and your foes. Melee combat can only occur when one character is next to another, but only on the north/south/east/west squares – no diagonal melee allowed. However, ranged melee can occur on the diagonal or one square away.
A character can also move freely around other enemy units so it can be difficult to set up a wall of fighters to protect your other units. Believe me, you’ll want to figure out choke points on the map to save your healers.
Combat is done on each character’s turn and involved percentages, rather than any player skill, to be successful. The percentages are influenced by many things – weapon used, armor, character skill points – but it all comes down to the digital roll of the die. Failing on a 95% chance to hit will definitely cause moments of frustration, but it all balances out – you hope.
With combat determined by numbers, tactics become paramount to success. There are many different classes of characters, but they gather into some specific types – fighters, archers or magic-users, healers, riders. They all have specific advantages and weaknesses, and it is up to the player to work those to their benefit.
Characters side-by-side can assist each other in battles or actually join up to provide even more support. Lone wolf characters will not do well. Keep your characters together and don’t split the party, if you can help it. Some of their battle cries are really good too. Frederick’s “Pick a god and pray!” is one of the better ones.
Your group will grow larger as you meet and recruit new adventurers to your gang. If you play with perma-death active – a character is gone for good if he/she dies on the battlefield – those new members will come in very handy to fill your ranks. They do come in at lower levels so don’t think you can sacrifice one character for another equally. If ultimately taking on 20 bad people with only a handful in your group is not your idea of fun, turn off perma-death and you’ll still get the enjoyment.
However, if your character or Chrom dies on the battlefield, the mission is over. This makes for some difficult choices because those two are usually the strongest on the field. But you can’t just have them rush toward the objective. They need support and protection while still allowing them the opportunities to defeat enemy combatants.
Surprisingly, the non-player characters are really deep. They exhibit their own personalities and quirks, making for some very interesting conversations. As two characters work together on the battlefield, their relationship off the grid grows. This opens up new dialog areas, diving deeper into each characters thoughts and dreams.
Some characters will even end up getting married and having children. Not what you expect from a turn-based strategy game, but it works very well with these well-thought out and unique characters.
Because it is on the Nintendo 3DS, I tried using the 3D feature when playing. It really is astounding how different aspects of the game leap off the screen. However, the feature still gives me headaches when I play for extended periods so I keep it off. You will be hooked for huge chunks of time as your battles become more convoluted and complex.
Beyond the main quest, there are side missions to help your characters gain experience, recruit new members or even rescue merchants who will then give you discounts. Nintendo is also planning to release new maps and content through SpotPass and the in-game store in the coming months, so the adventures will continue.
“Fire Emblem Awakening” is an excellent game if you are into the finer details of directing combat. Analyzing your choices, making the best moves, utilizing your resources to their maximum effect – these skills will be needed as you and Chrom wage a battle for truth, justice and the Ylissian way. The added bonus of relatable and interesting characters just adds more enjoyment and depth to a wonderful title for the 3DS.
“Fire Emblem Awakening” is available exclusively on the Nintendo 3DS. It is out now in Japan and North America. It is rated T for Teen due to alcohol reference, fantasy violence, mild language, and mild suggestive themes. This review was completed using a provided digital download copy.
“Mario Tennis Open” tries to add more than the typical Mario tennis action, but doesn’t sustain the rally long enough to make it enjoyable.
Hoping to introduce the franchise to a new set of gamers, Nintendo released their latest tennis title on the handheld 3DS controller. The original “Mario Tennis” was unveiled in 2000 and only for the Nintendo 64 home console. A Game Boy Color handheld version was also released, but offered entirely different gameplay than the original.
Gameplay is straightforward tennis action. Classic characters from the Mario franchise act as your tennis avatar, and each has specific strengths and weaknesses to differentiate play.
Using the 3DS enables multiple variations on controller set up. Players can use the buttons and joystick to move and create shots. The touch screen is also an option to choose the type of shot you want, and the gyro sensors let players guide their shots left and right. There are also three different shot screens to customize the action to fit the player’s style.
Overhand smash shots, lob shots, slices and top spins are easily accessed. Double tapping a button or the touch screen before a shot can enhance the power of your play. Special Chance shots, activated when standing on colored circles and hitting the indicated shot type, can curve wildly and stun your opponent temporarily.
The physics is solid and very similar to the original version. Shots tend to stay in play and rarely go out of bounds. Directing your shots left and right is easy. Drop shots and lob shots take two different taps on the controller, but can be utilized well.
Circles appear on the court to help players get in the right spot for a rally. However, you’ll have to take your chances against stronger opponents to mix up the speed by hitting the ball while outside of the circles.
The basic gameplay offers single player and doubles tournaments with the console controlling your partner. There are four different tournaments to play toward the World Open championship with each tournament offering more challenging opponents.
There is an exhibition mode letting players choose their opponents, difficulty, type of court and how many games to win. This is good to help you practice against a particular type of tournament situation that might be giving you trouble.
There are also special games that use tennis as a way to collect rings, stars and coins. There is even a tennis version of the N64 “Super Mario Brothers” game. Hitting the ball against a wall as the game scrolls by lets Mario “stomp” Goombas, traverse through pipes and get to the flag at the end. Missing the ball means losing a life.
If you are looking for live competition against other people, multiplayer is available through local and online action. Quick or extended matches are set up through a rating system so one player isn’t so overwhelming against the other.
There is no text chat or voice chat so trash talking is non-existent, but it makes it feel like you are just playing another computer opponent. Your rating rises or falls depending on how well or poorly you do in your match.
“Mario Tennis Open” is addictive in the basic gameplay mode. The action is crisp and responsive, and the difficulty of the computer opponents appropriately rises as you progress through the tournaments.
The other modes are less fun and seem just filler to the great main course. The online play was nice for a change of pace, but without any kind of interactivity with your opponent, also lost its luster after a while.
I couldn’t put “Mario Tennis Open” down when I was going through the single player tournaments, but unfortunately, I really didn’t feel like picking it back up again once I was done winning it all.
A follow-up to the original Kid Icarus title that came out 25 years ago, this new version offers updated graphics, classic boss battles and humorous dialog that quickly becomes cheesy and trite.
The story harkens back to the original as the forces of Light battle the forces of Darkness with the player acting as the champion for Light. The angel hero, Pit, must set out once again with the help of the goddess of Light, Palutena, to defeat Medusa and end the threat to the human race.
Players control Pit with the circle pad and use the stylus to aim and turn him. Firing his weapon is done with the left shoulder button on the 3DS. Fortunately, the game comes packed with a nifty stand because trying to hold and maneuver gameplay was quite the contortion.
Even using the stylus after a while became painful in the wrist area. The game does remind you from time to time to take a break so obviously the developers knew it could have been a problem.
Combat is broken down into three different sections for each chapter: flight battle, ground battle and boss battle. In the air, Pit attempts to shoot enemies while continuously flying forward. He is able to dodge around the screen but his motion is always moving ahead.
On the ground (because apparently this angel has a limit on how much he can fly), Pit navigates through a series of rooms and pathways, defeating enemies and collecting hearts. Hearts are the currency by which players can obtain new weapons and skills.
The boss battles close each chapter, involving classic characters and a combination of nimble dodging and intense firepower. The bosses are returning enemies from the original title, but offer new challenges for fans of the franchise.
The intensity of each chapter can change as well, ramping up the enemies and the loot. A device called the Fiend’s Caldron, allows players to spend hearts to adjust the difficulty. Want to make it easier? That’ll cost you. If you want more, you bet hearts that you can complete the chapter, winning you more hearts.
Pit has nine different weapon types at his disposal and can equip one before each chapter. Ranging from rifles to clubs, each offers special advantages to ranged or melee combat. One nice feature is that some weapons can be fused with other weapons to create even more powerful attacks. Plus, some of the names are really quite charming.
If there is a downside to the game, it is the dialog. It starts off being funny and cute, but I get the feeling the writers were trying too hard in the later stages of the game. There are plenty of pop culture references that don’t quite work in this mythological setting.
“Happy meal of pain”? Really?
The talk also clashes with the action. Many times, the dialog ran on so long that I completed the fight before they were done trash talking each other. It ended up bringing down the entire experience and while some of it was needed for background, the dialog just ended up being silly.
Overall, Kid Icarus: Uprising does fly high with solid combat and some great visuals and soundtrack. The gameplay of solid overall and the story does move along at a brisk pace to keep things active.
However, the wings burn off quickly with extremely weak and cheesy dialog, and an uncomfortable playing configuration that would have been better suited for a second circle pad (Circle Pad Pro, anyone) than the stylus pointer. Keep the wrist brace handy.
“Kid Icarus: Uprising” is available now and only for the Nintendo 3DS. It is rated E 10+ for everyone 10 years old and older due to comic mischief, fantasy violence, and mild suggestive themes. This review was done using the Nintendo 3DS with no extra hardware attachments.
It was the year of hacking, the year of breaking records and the year of flinging birds at pigs. The year of gaming in 2011 had plenty of ups and down and that doesn’t even include all the video game titles that were released. While the explosion of social and mobile gaming continues to affect all games, it was a hacking incident that focused attention on the dark side of online gaming.
Gaming Network Hacked
In April, Sony confirmed that its PlayStation Network, the online service that has more than 77 million users and allows online play for it PS3 consoles, was hacked and taken offline.
It was more than just a denial of service ploy. Sony said that personal data, including credit cards information, was accessed and compromised. While they stopped short of saying “stolen,” the company recommended that its customers keep an eye on their credit card accounts and watch out for identity theft.
An outside security agency was hired to find out what happened and the network service stayed offline for several days while changes were made to prevent more intrusions. Sony also offered special incentives to bring back gamers after they fixed the issues.
But in October, the PlayStation Network was hacked again – this time affecting “only” 93,000 accounts. This intrusion affected thousands of user IDs and passwords.
Sony said the lessons they learned from the April hack prevented more information from being illegally accessed. A teenager inLondonwas quickly arrested in connection with the crime.
And before you think this was just a PlayStation problem, Microsoft announced that its Xbox Live customers were the targets of a malicious phishing attempts to scam personal user information. Microsoft was quick to point out that their online gaming service was not hacked and there was no breach of security.
Earlier in the year, the hacker group LulzSec released a data file with names, email addresses and passwords they said could be used to get into Xbox Live accounts as well as other accounts.
Breaking Entertainment Records
You know gaming is big when the release of a game smashes entertainment records for sales.
For the third consecutive year, the “Call of Duty” franchise raised the bar with the release of “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3” by earning more than $400 million and selling more than 6.5 million units in North America and the United Kingdom in the first 24 hours.
If that wasn’t enough, the game had more than $775 million in sales during the first five days. “Modern Warfare 3” also broke the record for peak concurrent players on Microsoft’s Xbox Live online gaming service.
According to Activision Blizzard, the all-time sales for the “Call of Duty” franchise exceeds worldwide box office sales for “Star Wars” and “Lord of the Rings.” There were more than 13,000 midnight openings at retail stores worldwide for the release of the new title.
Last year, “Call of Duty: Black Ops” sold $360 million on its first day while “Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 2” sold $310 million on its first day in 2009.
Mobile/Social Gaming Explosion
Gaming has transformed from being played on computers to home consoles to mobile phones. With it, game developers recognized they have a new audience to appeal to with games designed to be played quickly and with others electronically.
Zynga, a social network game developer responsible for “CityVille,” “FarmVille” and “Words With Friends,” recently filed an initial public offering with the SEC and began trading on NASDAQ. While the stock failed to rocket as previous dotcom stock did in the heyday of the tech bubble, the market for social and mobile is still very much a battleground.
Companies are developing games for smart phones and tablets and incorporating chat or other social features to allow players around the world enjoy games together. Atari recently announced they were changing their mission to work exclusively on social and mobile gaming while publishers like Electronic Arts continue to push big names (“Madden”) to the small screen. EA also bought Popcap Games for a whopping $750 million.
Facebook made it even easier for game play on their social network while Apple’s inclusion of the Game Center on their iPhones reflect the growing interest by the public toward gaming with others while on the move.
More Than a Gaming Device
Kinect for the Xbox was introduced with the idea of making motion gaming easy and fun for users. But creative people began “hacking” the device and make use of its cameras and sensors for more than just play.
Some people have used the Kinect to create very life-like movies using CG rendered figures. Other use it to manipulate video playback so that multiple screens can be created or erased as the user needs.
Kinect is also a watchdog for your home. A program turns on the Kinect when it senses motion and takes pictures of the “intruder’s” face, which can be stored or even sent online.
While hacking the Kinect wasn’t new this year, the ingenuity at which people were including the motion sensing device rose to new and exciting levels.
“Angry Birds” vs. The World
“Angry Birds” moved out of the gaming arena and into the pop culture spotlight with their inclusion in commercials, being released as stuffed toys and the very real possibility of a full length movie in the near future.
It is also notable for the people who play – U.S. Senator Chris Coons, basketball star Kevin Durant and UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who plays the iPad version of the game.
There is also a yoga philosophy that uses the characters and gameplay mechanics to explain its teachings. Rovio, the company that created the game, opened its first official retail story in Helsinki and plans another somewhere in China.
3D Game Console Released
With much fanfare and hype, Nintendo released a new handheld console – the 3DS – that would let players experience 3D visuals without the use of special glasses. It was supposed to revolutionize what the gaming experience was going to be.
The console was released inJapanin February and inNorth Americain March. But by August, Nintendo dropped the price on the device by $80 after demand for it was softer than expected.
As of March, Nintendo had only sold 3.61 million units – far short of the 4 million the company was expecting to sell. To appease early adapters who bought the 3DS at the early price, Nintendo offered 20 free downloadable games – ten free NES Virtual Console games and ten Game Boy Advance Virtual Console games.
The device also suffered from a perception problem as the company stated publically that the 3D mode should not be used by players 6 years old and younger. While there has been no scientific data to show any harm to the development of eye sight in children, some players did report experiencing headaches after continuous playing.
New Gaming Hardware
This year, two major gaming hardware companies announced they were going to come out with new gaming consoles.
At the Electronic Entertainment Expo inLos Angeles, Sony showed off its new handheld game console, the PlayStation Vita, while Nintendo introduced its newest home console, theWiiU.
The Wii U announcement has been described as the next generation of gaming consoles and is expected to be fully backwards compatible with the Wii. The controller will have an embedded single-touch screen and the console will be able to produce high-definition graphics.
There were worries that the console will be too expensive to compete with the PS3 and Xbox 360. Nintendo has said the Wii U will be released after March 2012.
In contrast, the PlayStation Vita, Sony’s new handheld console and the successor to the PSP, was released inJapanin December and is expected to hit North American andUnited Kingdomshores in February. It boasts touch screens on the front and back as well as dual analog joysticks.
Vita will also be available in two versions: one with 3G support and one without. The 3G service will be provided by AT&T in theUSand Vodafone inEurope.
Moving from subscription to free-to-play
“World of Warcraft” wasn’t the first, but it has been the most successful subscription based game for massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPG) with 10.3 million subscribers as of November.
So it stands to reason that others would try to take a slice of that very large pie. “DC Universe Online” wanted to capitalize on the power of DC Comics and online gaming in a big way.
The game allowed players the opportunity to act out their comic hero/villain fantasies in the DC Universe and interact with iconic characters like Superman, Joker or Wonder Woman. Initially, players paid a monthly fee (around $15 in the U.S.), but by September, there were reports that the game was not doing as well as Sony, Warner Bros., and DC Comics would have liked.
In November, it was announced that the game would be free to play for anyone who wanted to play, but offered optional in-game microtransactions in place of the subscription fee. Two other paying levels were offered with different levels of in-game abilities being released as the price increased.
The strategy worked as “DC Universe Online” experienced a 2,500% increase in total playtime per day and a 1,000% increase in their user base.
More Affordable PS3
Perhaps feeling the heat from their hacking incidents or maybe just an attempt to chip away at Microsoft’s lead in the console market, Sony announced a price drop for their flagship console, the PlayStation 3.
The price drop put the cost on par with the Xbox 360, but didn’t include any bundling with the Move controller (that came later in the year). Some analysts wondered if Microsoft would respond with a price drop of their own – something that did not occur.
The Xbox 360 has traditionally been the top selling gaming console in the U.S.
The Season of 3
Finally, you can’t talk about the year in gaming without talking about games. This year, many of the popular franchises produced sequels with many of the shooter titles sporting the number three in their titles.
“Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3,” “Battlefield 3” and “Gears of War 3” all brought back familiar gameplay and characters while putting them in new situations and scenarios.
“Uncharted 3,” featuring the treasure-seeking ways of Nathan Drake, closed out that franchise. “Resistance 3” also brought an end to the alien invasion of Earth. And “F.E.A.R 3” finally stopped making us dread little girls in darkened hallways.
X-Play host Morgan Webb said all these sequels and finale installments are happening for a reason – new consoles on the near future.
“We’re nearly the end of a console cycle so series that have begun at the beginning of the console cycle, they’re starting to finish up the series,” she said. “People have made the investment in the franchise and they’ve got the art together and they don’t want to create something completely new when new consoles are starting to be on the horizon.”
The PlayStation Vita and the Nintendo Wii U are both arriving in the world markets with the Vita hitting North American and European shores in February after a Japanese launch in mid-December. The PS Vita is a handheld console and successor to the PlayStation Portable (PSP) that offers beefier graphics, interactive touchscreens on the front and back, and dual analog sticks much like the PlayStation 3 controllers.
Sony is banking on familiar characters in games like “Uncharted: Golden Abyss” and “Little Big Planet” to help draw in customers as well as creating unique and immersive games to appeal to the hard core gamer. The company is going after the dedicated portable gaming market, but challenging tablets and smartphones for the same gamers.
There were more than 320,000 units sold in Japan after its December 16 release, putting it on nearly even footing with the Nintendo 3DS. Those numbers dropped dramatically in the second week to just over 70,000 and analysts are watching to see how the device will be received in the U.S. and Europe.
Later in 2012, Nintendo will be releasing their next generation console called Wii U. It is the first Nintendo console to feature 1080p high-definition graphics and will have a touchscreen embedded in the controller to allow for gaming even when the TV is off.
A prototype was shown during the Electronic Entertainment Expo 2011 to demonstrate its single touch screen that supplements or replicates gameplay on the monitor. Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said the final version will be revealed at the Electronic Entertainment Expo (E3) 2012 in Los Angeles and released to the public after March 2012.
Critics are concerned about the potential consumer costs, but Nintendo is confident the Wii U will open up a new style of gameplay for the home gamer.
There has also been speculation that a PlayStation 4 or new Xbox console could be released in 2012. In an interview with CNN Geek Out, Xplay host Morgan Webb said many developers are working on new franchises for a new console generation.
“We’re nearly at the end of a console cycle, so series that have begun at the beginning of the console cycle, they’re starting to finish up the series,” Webb said. “People have made the investment in the franchise and they’ve got the art together and they don’t want to create something completely new when new consoles are starting to be on the horizon.”
Some developers have spoken openly about learning about technology for a new Sony console. And while there have been hints about a new Xbox console for a couple of years, Microsoft has been mum about any new console hardware and focusing their efforts on the Kinect controller.
Of course, all these new hardware devices won’t mean a thing unless gamers have great games to play. There is a powerhouse line-up of major franchises and popular characters in store for 2012.
“Halo 4” is the next blockbuster installment in the iconic franchise that has likely defined a generation of gaming. Set in the aftermath of “Halo 3,” Master Chief returns to face an ancient evil that (of course) threatens the entire universe.
Speaking of saving the universe, “Mass Effect 3” brings back Commander Shepard as his battles against the Reapers pit the galaxy against the advanced machine race. The story is expected to flow directly from the ending of “Mass Effect 2” and will also offer a female version of Commander Shepard for the first time.
Some old friends will be returning in “Diablo III” and “Twisted Metal.” More than ten years after “Diablo II,” players will get to battle the forces of evil with new destructible environments and classes to play. “Twisted Metal” returns from a 17 year hiatus for more combat on wheels action and over-the-top explosions.
“Bioshock: Infinite” has been wowing audiences since its announcement in 2010 and has already won numerous awards before its official release next year. Taking the action from underwater to the skies, creator Ken Levine is hoping fans will embrace the new direction and explore the setting and culture.
“Final Fantasy XIII-2” returns players to Cocoon in search of Lightning, the hero from “Final Fantasy XIII.” The game was released in mid-December in Japan to perfect scores and selling more than 524,000 copies for the PlayStation 3 version alone. Square Enix, developer of the game, is expecting a great launch for the rest of the world in 2012.
Other titles like “Resident Evil Revelations,” “Max Payne 3,” “Borderlands 2,” and “Grand Theft Auto V” will also be must-see games for the upcoming year.
As we’ve learned, gaming is not just for consoles and consoles are not just for gaming. Smartphones and tablets are continuing their march into the gaming genre with more choices from Atari, Zynga, Electronic Arts and other well-known gaming developers.
As mobile devices become more powerful, social and casual gaming is expected to increase to new heights and draw in more people to becoming “gamers.” Some research shows that the demographic of a gamer is changing to nearly an even split of male/female and the audience is getting older and more affluent.
Likewise, consoles are broadening their entertainment choices beyond just gaming into live sporting events, movies and music. Hulu, Netflix and ESPN have already made inroads that other providers will be exploring in the coming year.
Look for that trend to continue as content producers look to capture audiences at every opportunity and gaming seen as a potential growth market.
While 2011 was a big year in gaming, 2012 is projected to be even larger. Communications market researcher TMNG expects the global gaming business to reach $40 billion in revenues by 2012 with high growth in the mobile game sector.
There are likely to be twists and unexpected developments along the way for the gaming industry in 2012. But at the heart of it all, the gamer consumer will be the one who decides which technology or title goes on to glory and which goes in the discount bin.
Nintendo is putting a new shine on some titles for the Wii, 3DS and DS systems this fall.
A special edition “The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword” bundle will also contain a gold Wii Remote Plus controller available at launch on November 20. The game will also contain a special music CD featuring orchestral music that will be performed at The Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Symphony Concert in October.
Nintendo also announced two titles, one for each of their handheld controllers.
“Tetris: Axis” will be available for the 3DS on October 2 and include more than 20 different modes. The game will also allow up to eight people compete in wireless multiplayer competition.
For the DS system, the good Professor is back. “Professor Layton and the Last Specter” kicks off a brand new, puzzle solving trilogy set three years before the events in “Professor Layton and the Curious Village.”
Wait. A new trilogy set before a trilogy that’s already out? This sounds vaguely familiar.
Fans in North America will also get a bonus to “The Last Specter.” A role-playing game entitles “Professor Layton’s London Life” will contain more than 100 hours of additional content and be available at launch on October 17.
What once was old is new again. And it is buggy.
Atari is getting ready to release a new version of their arcade classic, “Centipede,” with an updated version called “Centipede: Infestation.”
The game is a run and gun shooter in a post-apocalypic world overrun by creepy crawlers of all shapes and sizes. A new trailer shows how the player battles centipedes, spiders, beetles, and yellow jackets.
Twelve years after a nuclear war, the world has turned into an uninhabitable wasteland with mutant insects thriving in a toxic world and humanity holding onto survival in outposts hidden from the poisonous air and the killer centipedes hunting their natural resources.
There are more than 20 different breeds of insects featured in seven different environments and 40 stages. The game is expected to be released later in 2011 for the Wii and Nintendo 3DS.
The price in the United States drops from $249.99 to $169.99 on August 12. In Japan, the price drops 10,000 yen ($127) on August 11.
The Nintendo 3DS was released in late February in Japan and March in US with much fanfare about its innovative glasses-free 3-D video display. Reviewers praised the improved controls and look of games while some fans complained about headaches associated with the new 3-D display.
“For anyone who was on the fence about buying a Nintendo 3DS, this is a huge motivation to buy now,” said Nintendo of America President Reggie Fils-Aime. “We are giving shoppers every incentive to pick up a Nintendo 3DS, from an amazing new price to a rapid-fire succession of great games.”
Nintendo is expecting to launch several iconic titles for the 3DS beginning in September. “Star Fox 64 3D” arrives on September 9, followed by “Super Mario 3D Land,” “Mario Kart 7” and “Kid Icarus Uprising” by the holiday season.
If you already own a 3DS, Nintendo hasn’t forgotten about you. They are offering 20 free downloadable games from the Nintendo eShop – 10 from the NES Virtual Console games and 10 Game Boy Advance Virtual Console games – before they are available to the general public.
Current users who connect to the eShop before August 11 will automatically be registered as in the Nintendo 3DS Ambassador program. The program will allow those 3DS owners to get the 20 games for free.
Games from the NES like “Super Mario Bros.” and “Donkey Kong Jr.” are slated to become available later this year. Game Boy games like “Metroid Fusion” and “Mario Kart” will only be accessible to the Ambassador members and there are no plans to make them available to the general public.
While a company announcement did not directly address the reasons for the price drop, Nintendo may be reacting to disappointing sales numbers from early in the year. They came up 39 million units short of projected numbers for their fiscal year ending March 31 and have cut financial projections for the year from 110 billion yen to 20 billion yen.
Competition from the new PlayStation handheld Vita expected later this year may also be spurring the price move now. Vita was expected to hit the marketplace at $249 with more than 80 titles at launch.
“The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D” (Nintendo) is a delightful trip down memory lane that brings back memories of the original Nintendo 64 version with a new shine.
Nintendo remastered their 1998 classic for their handheld console, the Nintendo 3DS. Link, Navi and all the other characters now pop out of the screen with the new glasses-free 3D technology.
The original “Ocarina of Time” was praised as one of the best video games ever on Game Rankings and Metacritic, two websites that use gamer input to come up with their scores. With Nintendo’s move towards re-releasing their famous and classic titles in 3D, “Ocarina of Time” was pretty much a no brainer.
The land of Hyrule does seem crisper and brighter than I remember. The maps feel more expansive even though my mind knows they are the same as the 1998 version.
All the combat action is the same from the previous version. Controls are a bit different to account for the touch screen on the 3DS, and motion control lets Link look around easier than before.
The movements and button manipulation feels intuitive. I’m not sure if that’s because my memory is helping me or the on-screen hints keep pushing me forward.
The touch screen also acts as an inventory screen so you can easily see what in your pack and what items are assigned to which button. Nintendo made good use of the dual screens with the split of action on top and packing on bottom.
If you knew how to solve all the puzzles in the N64 version, you’ll breeze through them on the 3DS version. However, if this is all new to you, a new hint system will guide you through some of the tougher tests.
If there were parts you couldn’t stand in the original (I love you Navi, but if you shout ‘Hey, Listen!’ one more time…), those are included as well.
The music plays an integral part of the game and, using headphones on the 3DS, it sounds clear and majestic. The themes and musical sound effects are as timeless as anything associated with Mario.
After completing the main story, there is Master Quest – a second quest with revamped puzzled and redesigned dungeons to challenge players.
In reality, it is everything I remembered and more from playing the original “Ocarina of Time.”
Ultimately, the major difference between the two versions is the glasses-free 3D ability of the 3DS. Sadly, I ended up playing most of the game with that ability turned off.
The 3D ability is nice and looks great (for as long as I can stand it). But it doesn’t really add much to a game that stands on the pinnacle in video game history.
Nintendo took their time and really made this game beautiful, even in 2D. The gameplay is great and the new control system using the touch pad and motion controls offer a more natural feel to the game.
Add in the portability of the 3DS and Hyrule can be whenever and wherever you want it.
This would be a great game for any gamer of any age.
If you remember playing the original, you’ll love the journey back in time and marvel at how well the game has aged. If you have a new gamer close by, this is an awesome way to show them a classic game that has new controls to make it easy for them to enjoy.
“The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D” is an exclusive title for the Nintendo 3DS handheld console. It is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) due to animated blood, fantasy violence and suggestive themes. It will be available in Japan on June 16, Europe on June 17, North America on June 19, and Australia on June 30.
The latest LEGO block video game (Disney Interactive Studios, Traveller’s Tales) recounts the first three movies and also includes the yet-to-be-released fourth film, “Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides.” The new movie is scheduled to debut on May 20 — 10 days after the video game is available, so you have been appropriately warned about spoilers.
Each movie is broken down into five gaming levels. It is typical LEGO style with straight platform action involving swordfights, cannons, and collecting “studs” — single connection LEGO blocks.
Items can be smashed into the LEGO block components, and then collected for points or re-formed into another item that can be used in the game. Up to eight characters can be used on each level during story mode, but it can create for a crowded screen.
There were a few times when I couldn’t see what item needed to be collected or was pushed off a narrow ledge because the 5 characters who were traveling with me all wanted to be in the same spot.
Matt Ellison, associate producer at Traveller’s Tales Games, said 70 characters can be unlocked and bought throughout the entire game. Each character has a special ability that makes it unique from others, including Captain Jack Sparrow.
“Jack’s compass is really different from anything else we’ve done (with LEGOs),” Ellison said. “It will point to things Jack can find and also helps point to things to solve puzzles in the game.”
Ellison said the settings are as iconic as they could be and the team tried to put the LEGO spin on the classic movies. Since the films’ characters are so well known, he said they wanted to make sure to include little details to help players relate to each character.
For example, Captain Barbossa is often seen with an apple in his hand and Jack’s running style – arms straight out, waving frantically – is humorously well represented.
“A lot of time went into making sure we got Jack’s running right, his character right,” Ellison said.
The game play is all about exploring the vast scenes during each level. Puzzle clues and treasure are all over the place, waiting to be discovered.
“Eight collectibles in each level and 10 ships in a bottle can be found,” Ellison said. “There is something always hidden to get.”
Using Jack’s compass helps discover the missing booty, but there are also sign postings to assist players in finding key elements in the level. Since the scenes are so big, it would be easy to get lost or frustrated without those helpers.
“The exploration game play ties into the ideology of ‘Pirates of the Caribbean.’ Plus we wanted to make a distinctive change of pace between the levels, so you are treasure hunting in one level, and then fighting foes in the next.”
Even on ship levels, players will need to go up into the rigging or down into the ship’s belly to find all they need to find. Ellison said each scene has to be solvable for all ages and the game teaches you what to do and where to look as it goes along.
There are lengthy cutscenes and cinematics between the levels to fill in the story. The humor from the movies really shines in LEGO form, which uses its blocky medium to put interesting spins on the tale.
“The humor appeals to all ages. We took the iconic movie settings and twisted them slightly to make them funnier. Plus we took the same slapstick humor from the films and just made more of it.”
As I said, the fourth movie is also included so I was worried about spoiling my future enjoyment. Ellison smiled when asked about it, but assured me no details about the story line would be ruined.
“We will have some of the same locations, but none of the dialog (LEGO characters do not speak, only grunt). We do have some of the action from the movie but it shouldn’t ruin the film for anyone.”
If you remain concerned, then wait to play the fourth level until after the movie comes out.
The one drawback to the game was the two player co-op play. As in other LEGO video games, two people in the same room can drop-in/drop out as separate characters and solve all the puzzles.
Unlike previous LEGO games which forced the two characters to stay in the same screenshot, “LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean” actually split the screen as the characters walked away from each other.
However, the split in the split screen moved around in relation to where the characters were on the level. As the characters got closer to each other, the scene slowly changed back to a single screen.
It was difficult to focus on what my character was doing or where it was in the split screen action. My co-op player and I found it confusing, and, at times, frustrating to figure out where we needed to go or what we needed to do unless we were in the same screen.
There was never a time where a puzzle needed to be solved in split screen mode. After a while, it just gave me a headache.
Once each level is completed in story mode, free play mode is unlocked which allows you to use any of the characters you have available to solve puzzles that couldn’t be previously figured out. Those characters will also get you into previously unavailable areas.
Finding all the collectibles and solving all the brain teasers will keep players playing for many hours after the story mode is complete.
The game is also available for the Nintendo 3DS, but there are only 16 levels and you can only use one character during the level. Ellison said the 3DS version is tailored to the single player experience and everything can be solved by one character.
“LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean” is a fun spin on the blockbuster (pun intended) movies. It ramps up the humor from the films and offers plenty of action for players.
Exploration is the key. While the story mode only took me about nine hours, I barely collected 40 percent of all the items that could be found. Replaying the game in free play will keep players interested for many more hours.
The co-op mode was a trouble spot and disappointing. While I often lamented about being kept in the same screen in previous LEGO co-op versions, the split screen action as presented is not the solution I was looking for.
Overall, the game is lots of fun despite some playability glitches. And following the adventures of Jack Sparrow .. I mean, Captain Jack Sparrow .. is worthy of any would-be pirate.
“LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean” will be available May 10 in the U.S., May 13 in Europe and May 19 in Australia. It is available on the PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Wii, Nintendo 3DS, and PSP. It is rated E10+ due to cartoon violence and comic mischief. This review was done playing on the Xbox 360 in story mode, co-op mode and free play.