mario and wario paint and compose in mario paint and warioware D.I.Y.

it’s been a long time since i’ve “completed” a warioware title, and the reason is that warioware D.I.Y. for DS was next in line and i’m not really into games that focus on creativity since i’m not very artistic, and when i’m playing a game i’d rather just be playing a game than creating. anyway, before i get into warioware D.I.Y., it’s pretty much impossible not to talk about that game without mentioning its well-known predecessor mario paint on SNES. i’d never played mario paint, so i gave it a quick spin. one thing mario paint was famous for was introducing the SNES mouse and basically has three modes: a cute and cartoony version of photoshop in which you can create still images and animations; a cute and cartoony composer mode in which you can create music with a maximum of three notes at a time; and a bonus mini-game called “gnat attack” (aka “coffee break” or “fly swatter”) in which you navigate the mouse around to swat at flies and other enemies. i enjoyed my time with mario paint and it’s cute and colorful, but a big drawback to the game (and a deal-breaker by modern standards) is that there’s now way to save your results other than record it to a video recorder via your TV, or utilize modern means, such as an emulator’s save states.

as for warioware D.I.Y., i dove into playing through the mini-games first, and these are the typical warioware fare. the game focuses on touchscreen controls and in that sense is very much like warioware: touched, although the games feel somewhat average in general, although that could just be that the formula has worn thin. before long i was exploring what the rest of the game has to offer, which includes 4-panel comics to read that unlock daily, many of which are quite entertaining (albeit fairly surreal), and a listening center. on the creative side the game includes a comic strip maker and a music maker (with a max of 4 simultaneous notes + 1 rhythm track instead of mario paint‘s 3).

the game offers multiple ways to ease you into the main event, microgame creation: on way is the “jobs” section, where you can take on tasks to replace artwork from microgames (taken from the original warioware title, i believe). the photoshop-like art creator, which is pretty much the same in all the modes, is similar to mario paint‘s, and is equally cute and colorful and similarly surprisingly deep. the game also provides three in-depth tutorials to take you through increasingly complex ways of creating objects and programming simple interactions in order to create your game. after working through some of the microgame creation it becomes clearer why the pre-made microgames feel more basic than usual, because you can actually import any of them and modify them as you like to create your own version. this is a great way to get into the creation without having to start from scratch, and also a great way to learn how the game programming works since you can see how other microgames were set up. the game also includes stamps that you can use in lieu of having to create your own artwork, which is also helpful for people without much in the way of artistic skills.

when the game was originally released, the wi-fi connection features were a big part of the interactivity, with new microgames made available on a regular basis (some by famous real-world game developers themselves) and contests were held to make a microgame that matched a given theme. it’s too bad those features were available for such a short time, since the game came out at the tail end of the DS’s cycle (just a year before the 3DS was released). the game also features interactivity with the wiiware title warioWare D.I.Y. showcase, where you can transfer your creations (or any of the other microgames) from your DS to the wii to play with the wiimote (another reason why the microgames were more simplistic, since they had to be compatible with the wiimote’s point-and-click capabilities). i haven’t sat down and played through that yet, but prob. will in the near future.

all in all mario paint, although regarded as a classic, seems fairly superseded by warioware D.I.Y.. the latter provides many more capabilities as well as plenty of options to save your games, although still no ability to export to anything outside of your DS or wii. although i enjoyed my time with the game, i’m not really the intended target since i’m not really into being creative within my gaming time, but otherwise this is an easy recommendation to people who are looking for that kind of experience.

paint and compose with these mario paint and warioware D.I.Y. links:
article on mario paint on wikipedia
a theme from sonic recreated in warioware D.I.Y.
review at nintendolife.com
list on unlockables at gamefaqs, and a list of medal requirements
how to get mario paint theme music to play in D.I.Y.
list of all the games that were downloadable with descriptions, at mariowiki.com
– the game was ranked #13 in IGN’s top DS games, published in 2010


pipe dream mania

i haven’t played any game boy games this year, and i’ve been meaning to play pipe dream for a while because its core gameplay has made an appearance in other games, such as bioshock (where it appeared as a mini-game when you’re hacking machinery), and the 3DSware title mario and donkey kong. the original game was apparently called pipe mania and first appeared on amiga in 1989 and was then ported to many different platforms, including NES, but i had a copy of the game boy version which is probably pretty similar.

the gameplay is probably familiar to most people and is easy to pick up: join a random assortment of pipe pieces together to control the flow of “flooz”, a presumably toxic substance. at first i thought the goal was to get the flooz to the edge of the screen, but this isn’t the case. instead, you have a target number of pieces to join together in each stage. the point system is well balanced: bonus points are awarded for going over the minimum requirement, making loops, using tunnels that go from one side of the board to the other, and using certain pieces (either of a certain type such as pipes where flooz can only flow one way or pipes that are pre-set on the board), and points are deducted for pieces you have left over on the board, or if you substitute a piece for one you’ve already placed (and doesn’t already have flooz flowing through it). there are five difficulty levels, which is simply defined by how many upcoming pieces you can preview, and three types of music. every fourth stage you beat you’re awarded with a little cutscene of a cute little worker fixing a pipe, and a four-letter password. stages get progressively harder with more pieces pre-set on the board and higher requirements to complete the stage, but otherwise it’s just more of the same core pipe-laying action.

there’s not much more to say about the game. it’s an innocuous little time waster, and making loops and otherwise racking up points is fairly satisfying. it doesn’t rank among my favorite puzzle games ever, but it’s quite well balanced and fairly enjoyable overall. apparently a version was released on DS that adds enhancements, such as pieces that are angled in two directions and pieces you can add other pieces on top of, and that sound like it would polish the gameplay even more, but after spending a couple of hours on this game i don’t really feel the need to spend much time with its successors.

control the flooz with these pipe dream links:
FAQ at gamefaqs with details on the scoring and passwords
entry on wikipedia
nintendolife’s review of the version that appeared on DS


frustrating yumi’s odd odyssey

yumi’s odd odyssey caught my eye for several reasons. i’m a big fan of platformers, and the game got a rave review from nintendolife. it seemed like the game had a lot going for it, including novel mechanics, a quirky and wacky japanese design, and an old-school level of difficulty, and it’s also the first entry to make it to the US from a series that’s been going since 1994 in japan. the game was originally released as a 3DS cartridge in japan, but is available on the the 3DS’s eshop as a downloadable title.

the game’s mechanics completely revolve around the title character and her trusty fishing line. at first the gameplay was pretty fun, and you can use your fishing line’s hook as a grappling hook to help you over gaps you can’t otherwise jump across (rather like the original bionic commando) or climb down to get to a lower ledge. there were some in-game instructions that were a bit unclear, but basically getting to the first ending (which involves about 10 levels one boss fight) is pretty doable since you have unlimited lives and no time limit. there are also alternate characters you can select, one who adds a checkpoint you can return to once and the other who (i think) provides checkpoints and a slow-mo mode that can be triggered at any time and lasts for a couple of seconds.

so far so good, but unfortunately it was all straight downhill after that. the game promises some 50 levels, and the lower screen is a simple map that clearly shows which levels have multiple exits. getting to the second exits of the two courses that had them available in order to continue to the next stages was one of the most frustrating gaming experiences i’ve had in a very long time. i don’t mind some old-school levels of challenge, but the leap from the first ending to unlocking the next couple of stages felt like getting pushed off of a cliff — over and over and over again.

the problem is that there’s no in-game help or progression of stages to teach or guide you to the advanced moves, which enable you to use your fishing line (often requiring you to master tightening and slackening the line at the right times) in order to propel yourself in ways that don’t initially seem possible, like climbing up a sheer vertical surface or around and up a 90 degree corner, or using the fishing line like a rubber band to propel yourself across huge distances. after hours of repeated attempts i was finally able to complete those two stages, but the entire experience was frustrating and i didn’t feel like i’d really mastered the mechanics; i just felt bruised afterwards.

getting to the alternate exits wasn’t just about figuring out how to execute certain actions. if you leave yumi hanging from her fishing line for just a second she completely loses all momentum, which really screws you over and leaves you dangling like, well, a fish out of water. i couldn’t figure out how to regain momentum, and i found it impossible to keep moving in order to keep my momentum going either, even with the slow-mo-for-a-couple-of-seconds feature. often i felt i was only able to get through a section by luck, willpower, and a huge number of retries. the spike in difficulty left me with the distinct feeling that the game assumes you’ve already played through and mastered previous entries in the series. and if the point is that the game wants you to figure out the advanced moves yourself, then the designers are completely sadistic, because the amount of trial and error needed to progress is pretty insane. the game tracks your fastest time and lets you save your replays, and prominently displays your number of attempts, as if that signifies some sort of badge of honor and proof of the difficulty of the game and your tenacity.

with that said, once i got past those astoundingly difficult parts i was able to make some progress before hitting another wall, so it may be that part of the problem is the difficulty is really uneven. as it is i ended up seeing less than a third of all the game’s levels. :p the game’s presentation is pretty barebones and uses blocky 3D models that look like they’re from the playstation/N64 era, and the glasses-free 3D effects are pretty nonexistent. there’s also zero plot, just some a handful of character descriptions. the graphics in general are cutesy, as is the music (forming a stark contrast to the unforgiving nature of the game). the game’s art style is pretty quirky, and includes giant fishmen. nintendolife describes it pretty well:

    Levels are made up of what feel like found objects from a stray katamari that recently terrorized a rural Japanese riverbank, with larger-than-life school supplies, picture frames, vegetables, clothespins, sake bottles and pay phones scattered on and among the floating platforms. It’s also never quite clear if these objects are giant or if Yumi’s just very, very small, creating an Alice in Wonderland effect that fits the game’s dreamlike aesthetic perfectly.

i was a bit torn about how to rate this game. when i did feel in control the game was pretty fun, but those moments became rarer and rarer as i progressed. i felt that if i poured enough time into it i would gain more mastery over the mechanics, but the amount of time needed to do so seemed way more than i had interest in sacrificing, given the minor rewards. the wikipedia entry on the series has an extended (and somewhat poetic) defense of the games’ high difficulty:

    While the controls are simple and responsive, an uncompromising physics model means that graceful control of the game’s swinging techniques will not come immediately. Out of this, though, comes great scope for advanced techniques through full utilization of the physics. Perfect execution of techniques such as the one- and two-step rocket jump are required both in later fields and for those who intend to improve their field completion times.

what the heck is the “rocket jump”?? i have no idea. while there were moments where i felt like i was navigating with spiderman-like ease, as i mentioned, it feels like even beyond mastering the mechanics the game is way too focused on “try and die” gameplay, which i can’t abide. it’s for that reason that i’ve placed the game amongst my rare, lowest-ranking category of games. it may be that some day i give it another chance, but that’s not likely to be anytime in the near future.

don’t be frustrated by these yumi’s odd odyssey links:
fansite (in english) for the series
entry at metacritic
example of the grace of a master player that i can only dream of reaching
footage from the original super famicom release


underappreciated donkey kong jr. math

the release of the new smash bros. on 3DS has pretty much completely ruined my chances of finishing any other games for the near future, but i took a break from it to sit down with my remaining donkey kong game on NES, donkey kong jr. math. i wasn’t quite sure what to expect, and i was somewhat disappointed to find that the main two modes are 2-player only. also, because i know donkey kong jr. so well the changes in the mechanics were a bit odd at first, namely, that DK jr. no longer has his two-armed faster ascent and instead moves the same speed when travelling up or down a vine.

after i got over my initial reaction i found the game to actually be fairly enjoyable overall, and as is often the case that it feels like this is yet another one of those games that people dismiss without actually giving it a fair chance. the game re-uses most of the mechanics from donkey kong jr. so the jumping is a bit stiff, but otherwise the controls work pretty well. the goal of the main two modes are simple: select numbers and operators in order to reach a specified total number. selecting numbers and operators with DK jr. is more fun than just tapping numbers into a calculator, and although the first mode is pretty straightforward the second mode is actually more satisfyingly challenging. in the first mode you’re often putting together simple equations, like making 37 by selecting 9 * 4 + 1, but in the second mode the number you’re trying to reach is harder to get to since you’re restricted to a pool of 18 numbers, each of which can only be 1 through 9, and the target numbers often have large values and can be negative. so to reach a number like 285 from a starting number of 200 requires some thought, e.g. divide by 5, then multiply by 7, and then add 5. although i didn’t get to play with another person, it’s easy to imagine that going head to head could actually be pretty fun, what with getting in each other’s way, stealing numbers that the other person wants, and having to quickly change your strategy based on what numbers are closer to you.

the third mode is just a series of exercises of different types (e.g. large number addition, simple multiplication, long division, etc.), with a sort of complicated scheme. in each set you’re given 10 problems and the bird on the left drops an egg if you solve it perfectly the first time. the bird on the right shows you which “place” you’re entering numbers for (e.g. for addition that bird will fly over the ones place, then the tens place, hundreds place, etc.), and you can give up at any time by pushing the key into the lock. selecting numbers requires you to climb up and down a chain representing one of the digit places, and to input a number you just move to a different chain. the controls here are a bit more awkward than the other two modes, but since apparently you’re also scored on how quickly you complete each problem, precision and speed is also rewarded. the mode is a bit dry, but still somewhat entertaining (and did work certain brain muscles i haven’t used in a very long time).

as i said, although it’s easy to dismiss games like these, as nintendolife did in their review of the wii virtual console release, those who take the time to actually give it a chance will find a reasonably entertaining game (as nintendolife’s review of the wii u VC version attests). the main downside to the main mode is that it really requires both players to be at the same math level: it’s not really designed for, say, a parent and a child to play together, unless perhaps if the parent is already handicapped by just being unfamiliar with how to play video games. the game may have originally been created as an “edutainment” title with the goald of trying to remove some of the stigma of video games and it apparently was not received well at the time, and although it’s gotten a bad rap over the years i found it to be much more worthwhile than most reviews would claim.

find the solution with these underappreciated donkey kong jr. math links:
– i’d forgotten this, but the game was actually spotlighted in a fairly recent nintendo minute video. the video makes it look like 2P would actually be pretty fun.
reference to the game in donkey kong country returns for wii
entry at wikipedia
– apparently the game is one of the more expensive games for NES


filling in with sudoku gridmaster

i have a couple of longer games i’m in the middle of, so i thought i’d write a quick post on sudoku gridmaster for DS. this one of those cases where i bought a game purely because it was published by nintendo (yes, i’m a nintendo fanboy) and it was cheap, but was a pretty unnecessary purchase since i’ve hardly made a dent in all the sudoku puzzles available in the first two brain age games.

just going by numbers, the first two brain age games include about 100 puzzles each, and this one includes about 400, grouped into varying levels of difficulty. in sudoku gridmaster you earn stars by completing puzzles, with the number of stars varying with how difficult the puzzle is and how quickly you finish it. accumulating a certain number of stars just unlocks more puzzles, and at a certain point you’ll also unlock a “ranking” mode where you’re presented with a puzzle selected randomly among the main mode’s puzzles and given a score, which seems pretty pointless to me.

the game’s interface feels slightly more streamlined to me than the brain age games. there’s no zooming in/out to fiddle with, and you can easily select the number you want to input from on-screen buttons instead of writing them by hand (although there is a handwriting recognition option which seems to work fine). adding notes in the four corners of a box is also easy to do via on-screen buttons. the presentation overall is pretty clean and generic but non-offensive, and you can select three different types of background music.

all in all this was a perfectly acceptable, although perfectly forgettable, experience. when sudoku was first popular my sister got into it and finished all the puzzles in the first brain age, so after some research i ended up getting her platinum sudoku by ubisoft which supposedly features 20 million puzzles (???). platinum sudoku also apparently includes a few other types of puzzles, including kakuro, which i don’t know anything about, but other than the large number of puzzles i don’t have any point of comparison between that and the various other sudoku DS games available.

get filled in with these sudoku gridmaster links:
entry at wikipedia
FAQ on gamefaqs with all the solutions (which you won’t really need), but also info on the scoring
page on official nintendo site
entry at metacritic


a visit to wario’s woods

i’ve been making my way through nintendo’s various puzzle games, and wario’s woods is a game that i’ve had for a while on wii’s virtual console but have finally set aside. apparently the game was the last officially licensed NES title (and released on SNES less than a year later), and the presentation is pretty polished. the game is one of the only games that features mario series mainstay toad in a starring role, and for that reason alone gets a thumbs up from me. the game continues toad’s characterization from super mario bros. 2 (specifically, his super strength), and also features the return of a couple of other characters from that game, namely birdo and pidgey.

regardless of the cameos, the gameplay itself is pretty solid. the game features bombs and enemies and is basically your typical match 3 (horizontally, vertically, or diagonally, with some pieces requiring you to remove them twice), although with some fairly novel mechanics. in the game you maneuver toad around the board. he can pick up any part of a stack (or a single piece from a stack), but is limited to where he can drop it. the game also alternates between two phases, one in which you have time to set up combos, and another that is more fast paced and is more about reacting. although they initially feel somewhat awkward, the controls work well and the gameplay is well balanced and well thought out. even after mastering the game’s mechanics the controls still feel a bit finicky, but the game is enjoyable overall. the focus of the game is on progressing through stages rather than racking up a high score, which is also a change of pace, and as with most puzzle games this game includes bonuses for chains and combos and a 2-player vs. mode.

in my post about brain age: concentration training (for 3DS) i’d mentioned “blob blast”, an activity included as part of that game’s “relaxation” activities that’s a touch-screen based reworking of wario’s woods (see the official site for a video clip). the touchscreen controls of “blob blast” remove all of traces of awkwardness of the original, although as a result the game feels much less unique. wario’s woods feels a little rougher around the edges, but its mechanics are definitely much quirkier and give the game much more character, even beyond the presentation. the game’s pace is much slower than the 3DS version in that there are 99 stages to work through (apparently the game includes a “round jump” function, which “saves your progress every fifth level and lets you jump back in later”) and the difficulty increases far too gradually (the game also allows you to accumulate continues by earning coins upon beating a level, with more coins given for faster times). as a result i found myself completely bored by round 51, and have set the game aside indefinitely (this is one of those games that, no doubt, greatly benefits from its 2P vs. mode). and although the game ostensibly features two single-player modes, the only difference is that in game B you encounter boss battles at regular intervals which are the same as regular levels except you have to remove pieces adjacent and in the same direction as a boss character that teleports around the board.

overall the game is memorable and unique, and it’s definitely not the worst of nintendo’s many puzzle games. although it’s not a puzzle game for the ages, it’s still pretty fun and puzzle fans looking for something a bit different should enjoy it.

visit these wario’s woods links:
review of wii u VC version at nintendolife.com
FAQ with a run-down of all the stages
entry at wikipedia
video of the ending
video of a complete playthrough


zapping ducks in duck hunt

for reasons that may be obvious to some readers, i finally got around to dusting off my copy of duck hunt and giving the game a concentrated burst of attention. i pretty much hadn’t played the game since i was a kid (so, more than 25 years ago), although i’d actually tried to play the game years ago (i know i’m not the first person who was bummed out to find out that the old light-gun games don’t work on modern TVs). fortunately people in my neighborhood have been getting rid of ancient TVs fairly regularly so i’ve had one for a while (untested), and fortunately when i hooked my NES up to it, it worked perfectly. w00t! i played the most commonly available release of the game which was the dual cart that included the original super mario bros., although apparently a single-game cart was also released, along with the 3-in-1 game version that included the power pad compatible world class track meet.

armed with an original zapper (although the orange version rather than the original gray), i was ready to go. at first the precision seemed a little difficult (anything that wasn’t near the center of the screen didn’t seem to register well), but then i realized that if i lined the on-screen targets with the sight at the top of the zapper the controller worked perfectly. shooting from a few feet away worked fine, although when i got nervous about completing a stage i would sit a little closer to improve my performance. ;)

the game has three modes: two classic modes feature the infamous duck hunt dog in all his “giggling at you for missing” glory. the first of these features just one duck at a time, and you have three shots to hit it. for each round you have to shoot 6 of the 10 ducks with higher levels featuring faster-moving ducks and higher requirements (e.g. hitting 7 of 10 to progress). in the second mode you have to hit two ducks with three shots. and in the final mode you have to shoot clay discs which are tiny compared to the ducks, and which become smaller as they move off to the distance.

even with the time i’ve spent playing wii, which has much more sophisticated pointer-tracking capabilities, this blast from the past was actually surprisingly fun, much more fun than i expected. although i’m an animal lover, the game doesn’t take the hunting aspect too seriously: the dog sports a wide grin at each success and the hit ducks, instead of having X’s for eyes, look at you with narrow-eyed disdain. the physicality of the zapper makes scoring hits supremely satisfying (i think there must be some deep-rooted, primal hunting instinct that’s causing the strangely strong response), and being limited to three shots for each stage makes for a significant but satisfying leap in difficulty between the main two modes. the lack of character in the clay discs mode is a bit of a drawback and its increase in difficulty isn’t quite as satisfying, but perhaps it was added to make parents feel a little more comfortable with playing a “kid’s game”. the responsive and accurate controls make all the modes fun, with a good degree of challenge. apparently starting at level 20 you can’t miss any targets to continue, which seems a bit overly demanding, that’s acceptable for an early video game.

all in all this was a game that, somewhat surprisingly, still holds up today. the game was so solid and well designed that i was somewhat tempted to add it to my “greatest games of all time” list, but i don’t think it inspires a need to play it for hours on end and i don’t know that i’ll be yearning to play it that often, so it doesn’t quite make the cut. but i’m definitely looking forward to playing through the other light gun games on NES (and other systems) much more than i was before.

zap ducks with these duck hunt links:
video of awesome predecessor of this game by nintendo and from 1976, featuring a projector and a light gun. nintendo’s use of the technology dates back even further than that, and nintendo.wikia.com has a cool entry about their first foray into light gun based games, from 1973.
details on the scoring, from strategywiki.org
article on wikipedia, including some info on the arcade version and quotes about the laughing dog
this entry at strategywiki.org provides details on the mode in wii play that featured some elements from this game
– the game occasionally gets mentioned on top ten NES games lists, including this one from gonintendo
amusing artwork featuring a painting found at a thrift store
cool 3d chalk art animation

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