although i’m still not a big fan of it (yet?), i’ve been trying to work my way through the castlevania series. next up for me was castlevania: harmony of dissonance on GBA. it seems that the game is the least liked of the three castlevania games on GBA, and i agree with the general consensus that the game, although it looks more polished (albeit a bit garish) than circle of the moon, is too easy and that the dual-castle mechanic isn’t that interesting. the game was fairly mindless and rote for me and ended up requiring a ton of backtracking, although i got to like it more by the end. there are some nice details in the enemy design that i don’t recall seeing in the other titles (like the skeletons that jump out of mirrors and the special events you trigger by destroying guardian armors in often amusingly gruesome ways), and the weapon combination system helps make things more interesting (although i mostly stuck to the holy book shield variations). the bosses tended to feel very same-y, though, partly due to all appearing in similarly shaped rooms, long with a low ceiling and two ledges. overall, i would rank this below circle of the moon, which although much more frustrating was also more difficult and thus less mindless. neither of them ended up being particular favorites of mine, although it looks like the next entry, aria of sorrow, features a more-memorable central game mechanic.
lone gamer that i am i haven’t really spent much time with the mario party series, but a friend of mine lent me the somewhat awkwardly named mario party-e. mario party-e is a novelty hybrid that combines a physical board/card game with mini games played by scanning cards into the e-reader. this was my first experience with the e-reader, and that in itself was novel and entertaining (if not a particularly efficient way to get your gaming fix).
i didn’t actually play through an entire game, but just from a mock playthrough the game seems to be fairly decently balanced. as seems to be the case with mario party games (and nintendo multiplayer in general, cf. the mario kart series) chance plays a fairly big role and it looks like it wouldn’t be uncommon for the person in the lead to end up moving to last place in just one turn. but the mini games are entertaining if not particularly unique; they’re helped in part by the novelty of seeing daisy and waluigi in their own mini-game starring roles.
this was another quick diversion. not worth a huge monetary investment, but as it doesn’t seem to be particularly rare it’s a more-or-less worthwhile addition to the meager library of the little-used e-reader peripheral.
earlier this summer i finally finished playing through kirby tilt ‘n’ tumble, a late GBC game and nintendo’s earliest foray into motion-controlled gaming, thanks to its built-in accelerometer. nintendo waited until the end of the GBA’s life span to release its second accelerometer-based game, warioware: twisted!, which i thoroughly enjoyed. this was almost immediately followed by the similarly controlled yoshi topsy-turvy, also for GBA. (incidentally, for all those trivia buffs out there, in the US that game was actually released after its DS cousin, yoshi touch & go, and the very same thing had happened to warioware touched! which was released on DS before twisted!.) also, topsy-turvy has the additional advantage of supporting the original orientation of the GBA (cartridge is oriented the same way as the console), as well as the orientation of the GBA SP and DS (cartridge is upside down).
topsy-turvy, being a platformer, is more similar to tilt ‘n’ tumble than twisted, although the gameplay is very distinct. whereas in tilt ‘n’ tumble you guide the pink puffball through pinball-like stages, topsy-turvy plays like a more traditional platformer and you use the tilting mechanism to activate environmental objects, such as making platforms extend or boulders roll. the pacing is more enjoyable than tilt ‘n’ tumble and tilting to affect the environment doesn’t usually bring the action to a grinding halt the way that it did in that game. also, being able to play on my GBA SP did help keep the motion sickness to manageable levels.
the uniqueness of topsy-turvy isn’t just the controls, however. as with yoshi’s story the game has a surprising structure (not to mention a similar storybook aesthetic). the game includes six worlds, but the number of levels in each world increases from the first world’s three to the final world’s twelve. although you’re required to finish every stage, each stage comes with a mission: eat a certain number of fruits, collect a certain number of coins, get to the exit within a certain time, defeat a certain number of enemies, don’t defeat more than four enemies, and avoid getting damaged by the auto-scrolling screen. at times two missions are combined, and the game taxes you with successfully completing the missions (which earns you medals) for a certain fraction of the stages within the world before you can progress to the next.
this focus on missions is unusual for a platformer, and although i never really actually enjoyed that structure i appreciated its pacing: each mission type is introduced one at a time, one for each new world (each world includes the previous mission types as well). the game doesn’t particularly impress when judged as a platformer, though. the graphics are excellent and rival those on the DS, but aside from the motion controls the level design is fairly ho-hum and none of the stages really offer much in the way of a “wow” factor. the game does incorporate some transformations (yoshi transformations were last seen in super mario world 2, but the ones here are completely new) but most of them are more frustrating than fun. the game’s also a bit on the short side (which was fine by me since it wasn’t really keeping my attention) and only includes one real boss battle, although trying to earn gold medals by completing a mission perfectly could extend your game time, at the expense of your sanity.
all in all this was a game that was an interesting entry in nintendo and video game history, but not that much fun. overall i’ve enjoyed the yoshi series more than the kirby series, though, and am looking forward to playing more of the remaining two, both for DS.
orient on these yoshi topsy-turvy links:
– apparently no one’s bothered to write a complete FAQ, but there are a couple of partial FAQs on gamefaqs
– succesfully completing all the missions unlocks some useless bonus modes
– entry at mariowiki.com
– entry at wikipedia
even though i’d just finished castlevania: SOTN i was interested in what the post SOTN castlevania games were like so i tried out its immediate successor circle of the moon. the game is the first of three castlevania games on the GBA, and was one of the few that SOTN producer koji igarashi was not involved with.
having only played SOTN of the “modern” castlevania games i don’t have the larger context, but the game does have noticeably less detail and visual polish than SOTN, even taking into account the limitations of the platform. the game is also much more difficult, which was both refreshing and frustrating. since the gameplay itself is pretty much identical to SOTN, the increased difficulty made combat more interesting in general. there’s a ton of reused palette-swapped sprites, but as with TWEWY in general their behaviors make them distinct and worthwhile. the game’s pacing is really unrefined, though, and there’s a ton of backtracking and save points never seem to be where you need them to be. the middle section was also extremely frustrating and i only found out after i’d beaten the game that this was because i had done one section out of order (the poisonous sewers; apparently i’m not the only one who’s made this mistake). also, the magic system, in which you combine two cards, feels unique but underutilized, and it really, really bugs me that you can only obtain certain cards in a completely obscure way (e.g. fighting an enemy who only appears in one location and only has a small chance of dropping the card).
all in all, even though there was a lot i disliked about the game, there wasn’t a lot that i absolutely hated. as a continuation of the castlevania series there was just enough that was new to keep me interested, and the new modes that are unlocked on subsequent playthroughs look interesting. subsequent entries will definitely have to shake things up significantly more to draw me in, though. harmony of dissonance already feels like a huge snoozefest from the first half hour i’ve played of it, but since i’ve finished the metroid series i’ll probably end up working my way through more of the castlevania series before too long.
circle these castlevania: circle of the moon links:
– nice section on the game at castlevaniadungeon.net. includes a handy chart of all the card combinations and a bestiary with sprites of all the enemies and their item drops.
– strategywiki.org also has a nice entry for the game, including a walkthrough and a guide to the bosses
– PDF of instruction manual at replacementdocs.com
– reviews at vgmuseum.com and videogamecritic.net
– the game has a score of 91 at metacritic (???)
– someone’s advice on what level you should be at to beat the bosses (although i personally was well under those since i didn’t level grind at all)
i’ve developed into quite a fan of the warioware series, and despite having no video game buddies i decided to go back and give wario ware, inc.: mega party game$! a quick run-through. the game is a bit odd in that it’s an expansion of the original warioware game for GBA (my review of that game is here) with a focus on multiplayer rather than a true sequel.
the single-player mode is somewhat tedious since you have to play through every character’s games (usually 25) to progress rather than a subset as in the original. this mode doesn’t feature the fun cartoon intros and unlockable toys and games of the original either, or any new microgames, so it’s all pretty barebones. still, it was nice to revisit all the microgames, although playing through all of them did highlight the ones that are anomalously difficult and/or obtuse. there are a couple of new unlockables in the form of a “master” (i.e. marathon) mode in which you play through all 204 of the microgames (it doesn’t include the 9 boss battles) and see how many you can get, and two random minimalistic music videos (which can be seen here and here, lyrics at the bottom of this page). the most worthwhile single-player addition is a time attack mode where you try to complete 20, 40, or 60 microgames in the least amount of time (for every one you win the speed goes up and for every one you lose the speed goes down).
despite not having anyone to play with i also sampled all the multiplayer options. they’re pretty much all variations of “who can win the most microgames”, but there’s an entertaining 1-controller survival mode featuring a rainbow of tingle-esque suited characters, and an othello-based board game that requires a bit of strategy beyond just winning microgames. the entry at mariowiki.com has a good run-down of all the modes.
not having been able to play much of the multiplayer games leaves me not being too qualified to comment any further, but at some point i may come back to this. i’m not quite sure how much “pick up and play” gameplay this offers, however, since people who have played through the original or the single-player mode will be at a distinct advantage, but it was fun to see the games on the big screen and it’s whetted my appetite for the handful of warioware games left that i haven’t played yet.
wario’s mega party links!
– good FAQ at gamefaqs.com
– review at nintendojo.com
– the entry at mariowiki.com for the original GBA game has listings for every microgame. is it just me or does this guy look like jeff buckley??
– for a comparison of the various entries in the series, you can check out the listings at gamerankings.com
– entry at wikipedia
i finally finished the long game i’ve been playing, which was a replay of what has become a classic, the original GBA advance wars. i had first played the original almost three years ago, and although it was a little slow in coming i eventually grew to love the series almost as much as i love the fire emblem series. [most of this review is going to get into minutiae, but if you’re interested in info on the original game mechanics check out this review at edge.]
when i had first played the game i had just finished playing all four (up to then) US-released fire emblem games and one of the japan-only titles, so i was a bit disappointed in AW‘s lack of plot and the focus on battle tactics over levelling up a set of characters. coming back to this after having played the rest of the AW series was a pleasurable rush of familiarity and appreciation for how perfect this game truly is. the characters are lovable and their CO powers distinguish them well; the battle mechanics are absolutely top notch; the graphics and music are excellent; and there’s an enormous number of maps with a fully satisfying level of variety among them. although i adore dual strike and in many ways consider it to be the pinnacle of the series (well, the US series at least, as i haven’t yet dipped into the japan-only titles), the original makes a strong case for not injecting the core game with steroids and in some ways overloading the game with a glut of extra features.
a lot to love, so it seems churlish to have any complaints. this time through i did an S-rank run of the normal campaign mode, and chose my route in order to unlock the rest of the COs. it didn’t end up being too difficult, although i chose sami the whole way through and her missions are probably harder than andy’s or max’s. i also S-ranked the first war room maps and tried out the hard campaign mode, and here’s where things started to get dicey. a large part of the reason i like the fire emblem and advance wars series is that, unlike a game like chess, the emphasis isn’t on planning far ahead and instead a general strategy will suffice. but when trying to S-rank maps and in what i’ve experienced so far of the hard campaign this isn’t always the case, and although i enjoyed the “puzzle” aspect of some of the maps, at times it feels like there’s too much “try and die” gameplay. the game feels less cheap overall than other games with more-egregious cases of such gameplay, because as this article at edge puts it: “It’s not so much trial and error as trial and education, each mistake teaching you a little more about the impeccable clockwork that powers the game’s simple, stunning mechanics.” although oftentimes the lessons learned from a particular map do feel like they’d be applicable to others, the amount of memorization that can get to be involved and working out the timing of where your units can be on what day compared to the enemy’s can really make the game feel like a chore. also, although in the war room you can choose from all the available COs, because of the strict speed requirements if you’re trying to S-rank you more often than not have to rely on sami or max, which makes that section of the game feel more repetitive than it could have if it had had more varied objectives and conditions (as another example, sonja is completely useless in this mode since none of these maps feature fog of war). the fact that the war room maps also don’t include any pre-deployed units also make them feel too same-y.
despite my mild complaints, the game is clearly still a grade-A (or should i say “grade-S” ;)?) classic, and although i don’t think i’ll be tackling the hard mode any time soon i’m definitely looking forward to returning to this at some point in the future, as well as replaying the others in the US series. although since playing this i’ve had an overwhelming desire to play a fire emblem game again …
roll, tanks, roll! readvancing some advance wars links:
– this is still the best FAQ overall for the game’s campaign modes, although it misstates the requirements to unlock nell, which is that you have to beat the advance campaign
– advancewarsnet.com has some great info including a guide to the war room, guides to the campaign modes, the soundtrack, and sprite sheets and animated GIFs
– the similar-sounding site advancewars.net also has some great content, including CO sprites and a damage chart
– text of the entire script
– war room guide at gamefaqs
– this look back at the making of the original advance wars at edge from a year ago doesn’t have any great insights, but it’s one of the few interviews with the creators that i’ve seen
even though i’m not a huge fan of racers, for the most part i’ve been enjoying working my way through the mario kart series. the games provide fairly worthwhile challenges while allowing you to recover from mistakes through the use of items, which generally makes the experience more fun than frustrating esp. when compared to other racers. i had skipped over mario kart: super circuit for GBA and played the gamecube entry, but then i realized the DS and wii games include some courses that originated in super circuit and felt i should backtrack to it before continuing on.
the main reason i had wanted to skip over MK:SC was because i knew that it was going to be similar to the SNES version, so it’s not surprising that when i started playing it i really rather disliked it, particularly because of the flatness and sameness of the courses. the majority of the courses are riffs of the original SNES courses anyway, and i found myself missing the variety of the N64 and gamecube versions. but by the time i’d gotten 1st on all the cups i was able to appreciate, although still not quite love, the limitations of the hardware and somewhat enjoy the retro (GBA) on top of retro (SNES) feel of the game. the ranking system definitely adds to the replay value and makes the game much more worth playing (i’m still not quite convinced that collecting coins is more than just a tiresome chore, but i do like that it forces you to drive different routes through the course), and the inclusion of all the SNES courses is a great bonus. while replaying the SNES courses i was amazed at how extremely short they are; no wonder they require five laps instead of what has become the customary three. since the SNES courses are so short, even though they’re extremely similar to the new GBA tracks those cups have a distinct feel.
incidentally, for anyone wondering, i used wario throughout the game. usually i don’t use heavyweights, so either the game is easier than the others or my skillz have improved, because he turned out to be a good choice for me, despite his weird voice (apparently the same as the japanese N64 mario kart voice). another bit of trivia: the game was developed by intelligent systems, much better known for their work on some of my favorite series of all time, namely fire emblem and advance wars.
in the end mario kart: super circuit turned out to be a step back in more ways than one. aside from the ranking system (it’s with mixed emotions that i note that ranking appears in the DS and wii versions as well) and the first appearance of retro cups (oh, and a 180-degree move you can do by pressing the A and B buttons simultaneously), the game didn’t really introduce much that was really new to the series. still, i suppose as the first portable mario kart it’s great for what it is, namely a sequel instead of just a straight port, and it was nice to revisit the original SNES experience. definitely looking forward to the DS and wii versions, though.
vroom! these mario kart: super circuit links are leaving you in the dust!
– a lot of good info at mariowiki.com: also includes a lot of the official artwork
– good page at themushroomkingdom.net: includes screenshots and wallpapers
– here’s a good FAQ at gamefaqs that includes detailed ASCII maps and character info
– this FAQ has detailed info on the ranking system
– and just for fun, here’s a video of a driving simulation system for the SNES mario kart (that i first read about in nintendo power haha)
i’ve been working my way through the wario land series, and the next one up was wario land 4 for GBA, and actually one of the earliest releases for the system. i don’t have a whole lot to say about this game, actually, as it’s quite similar to WL2 and WL3; most of wario’s transformations are back, and i don’t think any new ones were added. the visuals are quite nice, and the game mixes things up a bit by incorporating a somewhat slightly warioware-tinged presentation (although WL4 precedes it by a year and a half the two share some of the same voice samples and level groupings (e.g. “nature”)). the biggest change is that the game requires you to find a switch on each level, and once you press it a timer goes off and you have to race back to the start of the level before it runs out. since the route back to the start of the level is often quite different from the route to get to the switch this gameplay mechanic isn’t too much of a burden, although it doesn’t really seem to add much to the game itself. another change is that instead of repeated forays into a level as in WL3, all the levels are self-contained. although you can return to levels to find crystals worth more points in order to earn a higher ranking or a CD to unlock a track in the in-game sound collection, there’s not much motivation to do so. the game apparently features two harder settings that require you to find these often hidden or hard-to-get-to locations instead of having them be optional.
all in all this was a decent entry to the series, although it’s on the short side (only 16 levels and a handful of boss fights) and has the disadvantage of coming after the excellent wario land 3. for newcomers to the series this is a wholly viable entry point, although for long-time fans it just doesn’t offer much that’s distinctive with the exception of a few levels early on that are quite brilliant.
get your grubby paws on this set of wario land 4 links:
– nice entry at mariowiki.com with sprites of enemies, etc. and info on the title’s debut of a new princess, princess shokora (i.e. princess chocolate)
– review at nintendolife.com
– entry at wikipedia
i had been less than impressed with the last two mario RPGs i’d played (the “grandaddy” of them all, super mario RPG, and the wii snoozefest super paper mario), but i was still optimistic about the mario & luigi series which i hadn’t gotten to try yet. i started with the first entry, mario & luigi: superstar saga for GBA, which came out a couple of years after the first paper mario game (on N64). although from the bare description the game sounds like it would be very similar to the other mario RPGs, the dual-brothers mechanics really make the game feel fresh as in battle one bro is controlled by the A button and the other by the B button, making timing attacks and counterattacks much more active. even aside from that, the action in battles feels quicker in general and battles feel less drawn out that in the other mario RPGs i’ve played, although boss battles tend to drag on. learning the counterattacks for all the enemies you encounter is pretty straightforward and reasonably worthwhile, although every once in a while an enemy’s attack will be unusually fussy. the bros’ super attacks are generally repetitive and boring, but otherwise battles work well and almost kept my interest to the end.
the reason i say “almost”, is because the whole last third of the game really feels drawn out. by then the battle mechanics are really not offering anything new, and the last two dungeons are a chore. the last dungeon in particular reprises almost every mechanic seen in the whole game, which bored me almost to tears, particularly since the last battle (esp. the beginning of the second half) and what follows is incredibly cheap. the puzzles are generally entertaining and there are enough genuinely clever ones to keep the momentum going, and although the game follows the mold of padding RPGs with pointless mini-games, in general they aren’t too tedious and they’re staggered throughout the adventure. also, for the first time in a mario RPG i’ve played, the platforming segments, minimal though they may be, actually work, since they’re limited to very short horizontal areas.
but all of this is ignoring the game’s biggest strength, which is the story and presentation. although other mario RPGs have been called “funny”, this is the first one that i felt was genuinely funny. there were so many memorable and fun, chuckle-worthy moments, and even when i wasn’t laughing out loud i was often surprised and amused by the story’s situations. the graphics are good (although the pseudo-3D effects can make judging enemies’ attacks in battle overly difficult), but it’s the characterizations that really make the world of the game come alive. prince peasley made me laugh pretty much every time i saw him, and fawful is a fun new villain. the game uses similar slapstick-like mimed reactions from its two main characters as in other mario RPGs, but here they’re even more pronounced, and to greater effect. i was especially surprised and gratified that my man luigi gets some special attention, even beyond his elevated status as a main character in this game. and due to its similarities to the mushroom kingdom, the beanbean kingdom feels somewhat less unnaturally foreign than some of the other lands the mario RPG games have visited.
despite, frankly, disliking the last third of the game (which unfortunately prevents this game from achieving “legendary” status in my book), i’m really looking forward to trying out its two sequels. i should go back to the first paper mario game before then, though, although the next RPG i’m going to pick up will probably be a more traditional one. after a whole game’s worth of battles the battle mechanics of these mario RPGs feel too active, and for the next RPG i play i want to just be able to input the commands and sit back and watch them play out, haha.
some shiny superstar links:
– nice entry at mariowiki.com
– guide at IGN
– entry at wikipedia
– review at nintendolife.com
– the game is apparently actually heavily based on a japanese-only release by the same developer, alpha dream, called tomato adventure. interesting.
– here’s an entertaining retrospective on luigi gamesradar published a while back
it feels like it’s been a little while since i’ve played a pac-man game. actually i’ve played a few off and on, but i haven’t sat down and “finished” one in a while. one game that i’ve come back to several times but finally sat down and spent a concentrated amount of time with was pac-attack, as it appears as part of pac-man collection for GBA (a SNES version was also released, and a version also appears as a bonus (in a remade version) in pac-man world 2 for gamecube and other platforms). this is the third game of that set of four that i’ve played, and of the four it’s the one that suffers least from being scaled down to the GBA’s tiny screen. unlike the other three games in the collection which are based on the classic maze-based pac-man gameplay, pac-attack is actually a tetris-esque puzzler and as a result doesn’t have to rely on a tiny zoomed-out perspective or a board divided across multiple screens.
i haven’t played much of the other versions, but on the GBA the game looks great and not painfully small. lest you think it’s a mediocre tetris clone, let me be quick to say that the game is actually one of the better tetris-based puzzlers, and for me ranks closely behind the classics panel de pon (aka tetris attack) and puyo puyo. despite it being similarly addictive, the game isn’t nearly as immediately gratifying, and the pace of it feels slower, in part due to the fact it doesn’t really have any combo system. instead, the game provides three-character blocks which consist of all blocks or all ghosts, some combination of ghosts and blocks, or a pac-man plus two blocks, and its main objective is to line up a trail of ghosts and then unleash your pac-man to gobble them up and cause the subsequent falling blocks to form rows. since a block containing a pac-man comes regularly (every fifth block), when forming long chains of ghosts part of the task is to discard the pac-men you don’t need while not screwing up the big score you’re creating. also, it seems a bit counterintuitive, but eating a long chain of ghosts doesn’t seem to net you a lot of points; rather, your focus has to be on the blocks falling into place into rows after you’ve cleared the ghosts. this obscured objective definitely makes the game harder to get into. also, the strategy for placing the blocks is itself more like games such as pipe dreams where blocks have functions as end pieces or middle pieces (in this case, of a string of ghosts), and again, having to think about these uses of the blocks while positioning them does make the core gameplay more of an effort than most others.
still, once you absorb the nuances of the gameplay the game is quite fun. but even though the gameplay is solid and satisfyingly challenging, even after playing for many enjoyable hours the game just doesn’t quite reach the level of the greats. like games like wario woods, pac-attack is fun but the mechanics are just a bit too fussy. nevertheless, i enjoyed my time spent with it and feel my skillz definitely have room to grow. i achieved a high score just shy of 500,000 so i’ll definitely be picking it up again at some point to at least break that barrier.
attack of the pac-attack links!
– entry at wikipedia
– review of VC SNES version at nintendolife.com
– the game’s apparently actually based on a game called cosmo gang the puzzle. the game baku baku by sega that followed pac-attack by a few years features somewhat similar gameplay.