“Donkey Kong Country Returns” (Retro Studios, Nintendo) is a fun romp with the iconic gorilla and his pals as they try to recover stolen bananas. Plenty of side-scroller action, collectibles and traditional movements will keep everyone entertained.
For a character who has been around since 1981, Donkey Kong doesn’t act his age. The story begins as the Tiki Tak Tikis hypnotize the animals on DK Island and forced them to horde all the bananas – including Donkey Kong’s considerable stash.
Donkey Kong and his sidekick, Diddy Kong, race through different stages on the island to recover their bananas and defeat the Tikis, releasing their hold on the animals. Diddy can be played by a second player or in combination with Donkey in the single player game.
Gameplay is in the traditional two-dimension game field with the action progressing as the background scrolls from side to side. There are some points in the game that attempt to make it feel 3-D, but the action stays on the flat 2-D level.
Donkey Kong can leap and hop on enemies, but he can also pound the ground when the Wii controllers are waggled. This stuns his opponents and also will reveal hidden treasures.
Of course, there are barrels for it wouldn’t be a Donkey Kong game without barrels. Barrels to toss, rocket barrels to ride and exploding barrels that let you traverse wide spaces and sometimes will launch you into secret areas are all available.
DK also has a rolling charge that gets him by hypnotized animals quickly. A friendly rhino is also available on some levels to plow your way through spikes and solid walls.
In the single player mode, Diddy will ride on DK’s back and offer jet-pack help. This lets the Kongs hover in the air for a brief moment, making longer jumps or allowing for better timing to bop enemies.
However, Diddy can also act independently in two-player mode and is armed with his peanut gun to help in fights. Marc Franklin, spokesman for Ninendo of America, said it is the first game in the series that lets two players play at once.
“This dynamic gives franchise fans an exciting new way to play, and gives newcomers to the series an engaging, two-player adventure they can enjoy with friends and family,” Franklin said. “It’s a great new way for players to cooperatively navigate the game’s varied stages.”
Each level also has plenty of collectibles for those people who want to seek out every element. The letters K-O-N-G, puzzle pieces, coins and lots of bananas can be found on each stage and finding them all will take some repeated play and time.
Using the Wii controller and nunchuck was easy to move the characters around and attacking didn’t seem to miss a beat. Waggling the controllers did different things depending on DK’s position and there were some inadvertent moments of blowing when I wanted to roll, but those were infrequent.
Franklin said there were some challenges putting “Donkey Kong Country Returns” on the Wii.
“Any time you revamp a classic series, you have to walk a fine line to provide fans of the original with some feel of the games that they loved,” he said. “But you also want to make the game accessible to newcomers while giving fresh challenges.”
The stages are colorfully done and varied. One stage is in a jungle while another is like a mine cart race. Each presents its own challenges and some areas will kill Donkey Kong repeated times until you can figure out the timing of the puzzle.
If the action gets too difficult, the game will offer a guide called Super Kong, who will get you through the stage unharmed, but any items he collects along the way will not count to your total. Use him to find out how to get through, and then do it yourself.
Boss battles are also challenging and will require some thought before action. They are a bit easier if Diddy is with you since he offers additional health and power for the end fights.
“Donkey Kong Country Returns” isn’t going to set the gaming world on fire, but it is a great throwback game that offers platforming at its best. The action is smooth and familiar, but different enough to be challenging.
Music and movements will evoke long hidden memories for fans of the franchise. I fully expected a Mario cameo in the game, but I haven’t found it.
The game will also capture and entice those who are finding DK for the first time with its ease of play and whimsical nature. It truly is a title for kids and kids at heart.
It really is on like … well, you know.
“Donkey Kong Country Returns” is a Wii exclusive title and is rated E for everyone.
During a press conference at Nintendo Conference 2010 in Tokyo, Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said the console will go on sale in the United States and Europe sometime in March but did not announce a price tag for the 3-D device. Announcements for details in those markets are expected to come soon.
The new portable device can produce 3-D effects without the need for any special glasses. It is also expected to be backward compatible with Nintendo DS software and available in Cosmo Black or Aqua Blue.
Some new features were revealed at the press conference. The 3DS will allow users to take a picture of themselves, then automatically convert the image into a Mii – the player’s personal avatar in the Nintendo system of consoles.
The handheld console will also let users do some multitasking, pausing a game in mid-play, launching another program, and then returning to the game at the point where it was left.
As previously announced at E3 2010 press conference, Iwata confirmed that the 3DS will connect to a Wi-Fi signal while it is sleeping to allow it to automatically download data and free software.
This connection also allows for a Tag feature that lets users share information with one another just by passing each other without the need for direct interaction. Third-party developers are already working on integrating the Tag mode in their games to let players exchange rankings, messages and more.
A 2GB SD card will be included with the console package.
Iwata said that some classic console games will be remade in 3-D and can be played on the 3DS. The handheld console’s Virtual Console, a function that allows titles to be downloaded onto the 3DS’ memory permanently, will allow Gameboy and Gameboy Advance games to be played.
The third story in the Professor Layton series, “The Unwound Future” is set in steampunk London as the good Professor and his apprentice, Luke, are sent a letter allegedly from 10 years in the future. It seems the future London is in trouble and needs the puzzle-solving Professor to set things right again.
The puzzles are the basis of the gameplay with some interactions with non-player characters along the way. The mysteries are revealed as puzzles are solved, and with more than 165 puzzles in the game, this adventure will last quite some time.
There are logic puzzles to test how well you can pay attention to detail and can deduce a correct answer. Some puzzles are mathematical in nature, but no advanced calculus necessary.
There are riddles to be solved and sorting puzzles to figure out. Some answers require winding through mazes to a certain goal. And each puzzle is worth picarats, which not only measures how difficult a puzzle will be, but collect enough and a special screen will appear.
Don’t worry if you get stuck. Hint coins are scattered throughout the game. Collect them and you can buy 3 subtle hints and one “Superhint” for each puzzle as you need them.
Finding the coins is its own mini-game since it requires tapping around on the DS screen at different scenes to uncover the helpful trinkets. There are a set number in the game, so only use when necessary.
Nintendo also plans to release weekly downloadable puzzles for the game. The puzzles won’t be part of the storyline, per se, but rather add-on that will relate to the story. The lack of a DLC puzzle won’t stop a player from finishing the game.
There are also other mini-games that will occur after finishing certain puzzles. There are sticker books to fill out, roadways to drive on with a toy car, and a friendly parrot that will carry packages for people, who then will be happy to help you.
Moving around the city is easy enough with bus and underground train to get you to faraway places. A map in the top DS screen gives you an overview of the London area while the bottom screen displays a more detailed view of the specific area the player is working in.
The art work is splendid and not overly confusing for the small Nintendo DS screen. Hand-drawn animations give the movement a fluid and life-like appearance and the voice acting is stellar with just enough of an English accent to make you feel you are in the presence of London gentleman.
Sound effects during the game are okay, but not spectacular. The background music doesn’t distract from the gameplay but some tunes are more appropriate for a Paris café than a London alleyway.
The characters’ back stories and personalities are filled out nicely and will actually have you empathizing with them during different events. Bouncing back and forth from the present to the future can be rather disconcerting!
Overall, the story is deep and wide-ranging. The graphics and animation are smooth and well done. But the puzzles, where the game lives, are challenging, confounding, and fun for all ages and IQs.
“Professor Layton and the Unwound Future” comes out Monday, September 12 as an exclusive title for the Nintendo DS family of consoles. It is rated E 10+ (everyone 10 years of age and older) for some mild violence.
Twenty four years after her initial appearance, Samus Aran returns as “Metroid: Other M” (Nintendo) continues her outer-space adventures with a new control set-up that will have players flipping all night long.
The eleventh games in the series, the story of “Metroid: Other M” actually takes place between two other releases, “Super Metroid” in 1994 and “Metroid Fusion” in 2002. The beginning of “Metroid: Other M” actually retells the ending of “Super Metroid” in a lengthy, beginning cut scene.
Action begins as Samus answers a distress call from a floating ship and runs into a group of space soldiers who are also investigating the call. Players guide Samus through the ship in search of survivors and to discover what caused the disaster in the first place.
Movement through the ship is from many vantage points. Sometimes, it appears to be a side-scroller game with left to right movement only. Other times, it takes on first-person shooter characteristics, allowing for line of sight viewpoint and full 3-D motion within rooms and hallways.
In addition to the adventure along the damaged space ship, well-rendered cut scenes spend a lot of time looking backward and revealing more about Samus’ haunted past and why she decided to become an intergalactic bounty hunter. For long time fans of the series, these scenes really fill in the gaps about her history and motivation as a warrior.
Energy beams and bombs cut through enemies well enough. They are also used to open doors, demolish barriers, and some beams allow Samus to traverse wide gaps. Even boss battles will often use a combination of weapons to not allow players just to wail away with missiles.
“Metroid: Other M” also utilizes a Sense mode, which allows Samus the ability to dodge strikes from opponents and counterattack rapidly with a melee hit. Samus can also jump on top of enemies’ heads and deal death blows from that strategic point.
The environment starts off dark, but once energy is restored, there are few shadows to allow creatures to hide and leap out. Most bad guys are brightly colored and are easy to spot. Some creatures have specific points of spawning, which need to be taken out to stop wave after wave of baddies.
The game renders the feel of a derelict space ship nicely. It isn’t gloom and doom like portrayed in “Dead Space”, but you know not everything is going to work and getting around some damaged areas takes some creative thinking.
Samus retains her ability to morph into a small ball similar to an armadillo. This ability comes in handy for rapid movements, getting into tight spaces, and dodging enemies that want to swoop down from above.
What really sets this game apart from others in the franchise is the use of the Wii controller to open up various actions and movements.
The Wii controller is used in two ways – horizontally and vertically. Each has its own uses and impact on the game.
Horizontally, the controller acts as a classic controller with D-pad on the left and buttons on the right. With only two buttons, 1 & 2, they control jumping and shooting. The A button on the left controls the morphing ability into the small ball.
In vertical mode, the controller acts more like a pointer and gives a first-person-shooter perspective on the action. Samus can’t move, but she can scan a room for enemies and points of interest. A lock-on feature helps with targeting in a room full of enemies.
Action will require the use of both modes during some scenes, so gamers should be sure to loosen up their arms because flipping from horizontal to vertical and back will be quite frequent.
There are some minor drawbacks. It is easier to control the speed at which Samus moves when she’s in ball form than when she’s in human form. When moving through a corridor or room, she’s moving at full speed at all times, so it lacks some finesse.
The music is also disjointed. Dramatic tunes play during certain scenes causing players to expect something to happen. But Samus continues on without any conflict or revealing information obtained so the music seems tacked on.
As one of the first female protagonists in the video game industry, Samus and the “Metroid” series have a built in fan base that has been wanting to see where the bounty hunter would go with the new generation of consoles. “Metroid: Other M” pays homage to its past through the cut scenes and story tie in while exploring new ways to portray action with the Wii controller.
Fans and newcomers alike should be pleased with the variety and interaction. It was nominated for “Game of the Show” at the recent Electronic Entertainment Expo in Los Angeles, California in June.
“Metroid: Other M” is rated T for teens for animated blood and violence. It will be released on August 31 in North America, September 2 for Japan and Australia, and September 3 in Europe.
Fresh off their convention in Los Angeles in June, video game makers are setting their sights on a new audience as they arrive at the Comic-Con convention in San Diego this week.
Game makers and developer not only get to show off their best and brightest material again, but they hone in specifically on games that have a comic character tie-in. “DC Online Universe” (Sony Online Entertainment) and “Marvel vs. Capcom 3” (Capcom) have direct relationships to the superheroes and villains from the comic book world, but other companies know that readers of those publications also play video games.
Nintendo doesn’t attend Comic-Con every year, but when they have a game that they know might appeal to the comic world, they step up. Marc Franklin, director of public relations for Nintendo of America said hands-on demonstrations of two new games — “Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies” and “Metroid: Other M” — will be featured at the convention, because those themes and characters resonate with the attendees of Comic-Con.
“We have been seeing these kinds of trade shows attract a broader, more diverse audience,” Franklin said. “Which fits right in with Nintendo’s goal to expand the world of video games to new audiences.”
Eric Levine, Sony’s manager of product public relations, agrees. He said Comic-Con isn’t just about comics anymore.
“The show celebrated pop culture from gaming to movies to television and everything in between,” Levine explained. “This show allows us to engage an audience that is passionate and excited about games, so it makes perfect sense for us to be involved.”
Online game review site editor-in-chief Richard Torres says over the past four years, companies are taking Comic-con seriously and plan to debut new material at the convention. He points out that game developers will also experiment with how much they show and even allow attendees to play unreleased software.
It is all about building a buzz with the audience, he explains.
“You live and die with these people,” Torres said. “Now with tweets, you can just see ‘oh my God this panel sucks’ or ‘oh my God it’s really cool.’ It is a great way to find out where on the cool scale they’re going to land.”
In additions to the games already mentioned, here are some other titles looking to find their place on the “cool scale.”
- “Halo Reach” (Bungie/Microsoft) – The end of the legendary series is coming and Microsoft will be showing off new material and revealing details about the final battle between humanity and the alien Covenant.
- “The Force Unleashed 2” (LucasArts) – This title is set six months after the events of the first game and a year before “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope” takes place. Starkiller, Darth Vader’s secret apprentice, returns as the protagonist to use new Force powers and stronger enemies.
- “Spider-Man: Shattered Dimensions” (Activision) – Everyone’s favorite wall-crawler is making a return by sending Spider-Man across time and space to keep reality in balance. The game’s story was written by “The Amazing Spider-Man” comic writer Dan Slott.
- “Pro Evolution Soccer 2011” (Konami) – This sports title hopes to piggyback off the World Cup euphoria and ride the wave through Comic-Con. The soccer game will feature leagues from all over the world and include Argentine star Lionel Messi on its cover.
- “Assassin’s Creed Brotherhood” (UbiSoft) – The follow-up to the immensely popular “Assassin’s Creed” game will be on display. But in a twist, the game publisher announced they will be showing off the first issue of a three-part comic book mini-series based off the franchise.
Nintendo wants to woo hardcore gamers so they brought back a blast from their past to entice those players to the Wii with “Sin & Punishment: Star Successor” (Nintendo/Treasure).
The game is a sequel to their Japan-only, Nintendo 64 title from 2000, “Sin & Punishment: Successor to the Earth.” It is a rail shooter, which means the player goes along a predetermined path in the game with little movement options on the screen other than dodging.
It is, first and foremost, a shooter with many targets for the two playable characters to destroy. Isa is a young boy with a jet pack to hover over enemies, a laser pistol for ranged attacks and an energy sword to get up close and personal. Achi is a young girl who uses a hover board to get around and can automatically lock onto targets.
The action is fast and furious throughout the game. Boss battles, fights with very powerful creatures, arrive often, but fortunately, so do save points so defeat merely means a short trip back in time. Dodge moves are particularly helpful, because the characters become invulnerable when they avoid attacks. Hitting enemies repeatedly without taking any damage increases a score multiplier for each stage.
“Sin & Punishment: Star Successor” can be played with four different controllers: Wii Remote, Classic Controller, Wii Zipper and the GameCube Controller. There is no leveling up like a role-playing game and the weapons used by the characters never changes so there is no inventory to worry about.
This is pure mayhem for those who just want to destroy the opposition. Two-player action is a bit soft with the second player only on screen through a targeting reticule, but not many rail shooters even try for two-player action.
There are two minor drawbacks to the game. Some environments show enemies in a 3-D background, complete with gunfire and missiles, but the action only occurs on a 2-D level. This causes some confusion in targeting or firing on specific elements. It doesn’t happen often but can be frustrating in some of the more lively areas.
The second, and this is a very minor point, is that both characters look almost identical. Indeed, unless you carefully examine them, it is hard to tell who the boy is and who the girl is.
Overall, the game is a difficult, but challenging addition to the Wii stable of games. Hardcore gamers will enjoy the multiple boss battles and high multiplier goals. More casual gamers will like that their Wii can be used for something beyond party games and sporting events.
According to the Wall Street Journal, a Japanese wireless carrier is in talks with game console makers about adding 3G connection capabilities to their handheld gaming devices.
NTT DoCoMo in Tokyo would not specify which companies they were talking with in the report. Nintendo’s DS and Sony’s PSP are already Wi-Fi capable, but lack the ability to a 3G network.
Both companies declined to comment to the Wall Street Journal and a Nintendo spokesman told Gamers Notes that anything about their new Nintendo 3DS specs beyond what has already been shared can’t be discussed at this point.
The WSJ reported that adding 3G to devices has been a way for wireless carriers to generate data revenue and could allow console makers the ability to push software and security patches to the hand held devices without relying on users to initiate the updates.
During their Electronic Entertainment Expo presentation in June, Nintendo said that their new Nintendo 3DS device would be able to connect to other 3DS machines and get updates even when it isn’t being used. No details about how that connection would take place have been revealed.
The WSJ article also said that Sony is developing a portable device that would act like a game console, e-book reader and netbook computer. The company released the PSP Go last year to a poor reception, but has not released any plans to update or redo its PSP hardware.
Gamers Notes attempted to contact Sony representatives for details about the reported new device. We’ll let you know what they tell us when we hear from them.
UPDATE (7/7 @ 7:28 pm Eastern): A Sony spokesperson said they have not announced any plans for a new gaming system and can’t comment on rumors or speculation.
If you are a gamer or know a gamer, print this article because these are the games and consoles that are going to be must-haves.
The Nintendo 3DS, a hand-held console that allows games to be displayed in 3-D without the use of special glasses, took the top award from the Game Critics Awards, Best of E3 2010. Video games and game consoles displayed at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in June in Los Angeles were eligible for the awards.
In addition to the Best of Show award, the 3DS also won Best Hardware. It beat out Microsoft’s Kinect motion sensor that detects a player’s movements without the use of a controller, Sony’s move controller allowing 1-to-1 action between player and game movement, and two “Rock Band 3″ instrument controllers.
“Rage” (id Software/Bethesda), a first-person shooter/racing game, took home three awards for Best Console Game, Best Action Game and a Special Commendation for Graphics. Not much is known about the game itself, but critics were wowed by the look and feel from trailers shown at E3.
“Portal 2″ (Valve) and “Dance Central” (Harmonix/MTV Games) each won two awards for their entries at E3. “Dance Central,” a game that will use the Kinect controller, won Best Original Game and Best Motion Simulation Game. “Portal 2″ won Best PC Game and Best Action/Adventure Game.
“Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood,” “Civilization V,” “God of War: Ghost of Sparta,” “Marvel vs. Capcom 3: Fate of Two Worlds,” NBA Jam,” “Need for Speed Hot Pursuit,” “Rock Band 3,” and “Star Wars: The Old Republic” all took home individual awards. For the complete list, click here.
The Game Critics Awards are decided by representatives from 31 gaming publications after the E3 convention closes. The first Best of Show award was presented in 1999 to “Freelancer,” a space trading and combat simulation game. However, “Freelancer” wasn’t available to the public until 2003.
Nintendo wants to find the best of the best Wii games players with a national competition featuring five of their popular games.
Beginning July 16, the Wii Games: Summer 2010 competition will open to all gamers in theme parks and shopping malls in 24 cities.
Players will do battle as two- and four-player teams organized by age groups. They will compete in five games: basketball and bowling in “Wii Sports Resort,” the Hula Hoop challenge from “Wii Fit Plus,” and two adventure games, “New Super Mario Bros. Wii” and “Mario Kart Wii.”
Scores from the games will be combined to determine winners. The competition concludes with a national championship event in Los Angeles on September 3-5.
Olympic medalist Shawn Johnson will serve as the ambassador for the competition and appear at some events.
“I play Wii games with my friends and family all the time,” said Johnson, a medal-winning gymnast at the 2008 Olympic Summer Games. “I’m looking forward to watching people from all over the country coming together to have fun and compete.”
Winners will receive an entertainment package that includes a flat-screen television and surround system, a new Wii console with Nintendo games and Netflix membership. Winners in the family category will also receive cruise for the entire team.
For complete rules and more information, click here.
“Puzzle Quest 2″ mixes together the classic color matching game with elements from role-playing, fantasy games in an attempt to bridge both gaming genres.
In the beginning, the game seems like a typical RPG adventure. Players select from one of four personas – Sorcerer, Templar, Barbarian or Assassin. The character is outfitted with basic weapons and armor and sent to a small village to begin the quest.
Combat isn’t the typical hack-and-slash moves. Turns are played out on a field dotted with colorful gems, skulls and action point icons. The objective is to match 3 or more of the items together to accumulate spell strength, abilities or damage your foe.
The action is very similar to the casual game “Bejeweled,” where points are awarded for match 3 or more gems together. “Puzzle Quest 2″ also etches a symbol on each colored gem so those affected by colorblindness (like myself) can also play. There is also a pointer that will indicate where a possible match can be achieved, but it may not be the best possible move for the player so strategy and planning is needed.
The story mode gives adventurers the chance to save a small village from the clutches of an evil demon. Weapons, spells and abilities are all activated by matching up and storing energy from the gems. Characters can also level up to gain more spells and abilities just like an RPG game.
Other actions are also controlled by the puzzle game mechanics. Try to pick a lock – solve a puzzle. Figure out how much loot is available – solve a puzzle. Avoid a trap – solve a puzzle. Interaction between the character and villagers or friendly monsters, thankfully, isn’t a puzzle, but is brief and to the point.
The graphics are pretty straight forward, but the artwork is masterfully crafted. The music is sublime without becoming intrusive or repetitive.
The game is available for the Nintendo DS handheld console. It is also going to be available on the Xbox LIVE Arcade on June 30. Online and multiplayer action is also available to handle bigger challenges with friends.
It isn’t a night in Azeroth (“World of Warcraft”) by any stretch of the imagination and it does try to remove the “casual” label from a gem-matching game. “Puzzle Quest 2″ neatly straddles the line between the two genres without feeling too much like either one.