October 27, 2013

Wii Party U

Fun-fest or flop?

I picked up Wii Party U a couple of days ago. Mainly because the physical version comes with a Wii Remote Plus, and I needed one. The price tag for the bundle is $50. Subtracting the standard $40 Remote cost, the game is a mere $10. Not too shabby. However, it shows that Nintendo knows they can't get away with charging full retail price for a party game without some additional incentive. Party games ran rampant on the Wii, and already there are multiple available on the Wii U. The public pretty much knows what to expect from a party game, and to expect them to pay $50 for the game alone is ridiculous.

That being said, how does Wii Party U stand up to the countless other games in the genre flooding the market? Pretty well, I would say. There are no real surprises, it's what you expect. But since it is Nintendo, and they do care about putting out quality material (even for the extreme casual players), there are only a few duds in the whole package. It really is a lot of fun, and just exudes charm all around.

There are a lot of mini-games to play. The game forgoes any sort of narrative or story, since the main focus is the mini-games themselves. They are easy to understand, and anybody can jump right in. Unfortunately, this means some of them are too simple, in some cases even based on pure luck. I understand it's supposed to be accessible by everybody, but sometimes it dumbs down the experience a little too much. Those mini-games are the exception, however. I wasn't sure how I felt about the extreme casual approach at first, but in the end it won me over.

There are three main modes:

TV Party

These mini-games mostly use the Wii Remote exclusively. Each one has very simple controls and anybody can jump right in. There is some kind of main goal to achieve, like rolling dice to move spaces and reach the end of a highway. Things are made more complicated, however, in that how many dice you get to roll each round is determined from how well you perform in mini-games against your opponents. Mini-game objectives are easy, and utilize the Wii Remote in both vertical and horizontal positions. Mini-games can be anything from running through a maze collecting gems to memorizing what ingredients were thrown in a pot.

Think Mario Party, but without all the story elements and intricate complexities.

House Party

House Party uses both the GamePad and the Wii Remotes. Due to the control scheme, there aren't as many mini-games to play, but they have more substance than their Remote-only counterparts. One of my favorites was Lost-and-Found Square, in which the player holding the GamePad is lost in a park, and the players with the Remotes have to find them. The GamePad is a viewfinder of sorts, and that player can turn and look in any direction to note their surroundings. They have to verbally communicate to other players what they see around them. It's harder than it sounds, because there are clones of the GamePad player scattered throughout the park as well. Whoever can find the real GamePad player first wins.

Another game is Feed Mii, in which a fast food menu is shown, and non-GamePad players shout out what they want all at once. It can get pretty hectic. After all is said and done, the GamePad player has to drag the correct food to the other players' trays. It was surprisingly fun, and the kind of experience that only local multiplayer can provide. Additional mini-games in House Party mode have you using the GamePad's microphone, and even setting it down on the floor.

GamePad Party

As you might have guessed, GamePad Party involves only the GamePad, and is limited to a maximum of two people. Mini-games range from extremely simple (e.g. Foosball), to pretty strategic. An example is Mii-in-a-Row, in which each player has to line up three tokens in a row to form a head, torso, and legs. Mini-games scattered throughout determine if you can change one of your opponent's tokens to your own. It's kind of a mix between checkers and Connect Four. In addition to competitive GamePad games, there are also cooperative ones. It is a unique experience to Wii U in that everything takes place on the GamePad screen. The TV isn't even used.

In addition to the three main modes, there are other options available. You can choose to simply play any mini-game you wish, no strings attached. Maybe you want to practice, or maybe you and your friends liked one in particular an awful lot and wanted to keep playing it. There's also some single-player options, for those times when no one will play with you.

There's really a lot of content to experience, and every time you play it, you can have a totally different experience. As Nintendo states themselves, "With this many options, the party never has to stop."

One of my favorite parts of the game is the rating system. After playing a mini-game, you can rate it from one star to five. That rating is sent to Miiverse and beyond, so others can see which games are duds and which ones people like a lot. It's a great and easy way to get immediate feedback from players.

It would have been very easy for Nintendo to slap all 80+ mini-games in a box and leave it at that. Instead, they took the high road and added a bunch of extra content and used a games-within-games mentality to give the experience a much more "full" feeling. I've had the opportunity to play Wii Party U with a group of varying ages, and much like Nintendo Land, it quickly became a great large group experience. You need a group of people to fully enjoy this game. It's exactly what Nintendo was looking to do when they created the DS and Wii: Spread gaming awareness to people that don't normally play games, and make it easy for them to get hooked and enjoy it. With the Wii U titles released up until now, there hasn't been a lot for the casual crowd to pick up, but Wii Party U is part of the solution to that problem. It really is a lot of fun.

Do you need to buy it now? If you need an additional Wii Remote Plus, then I would say yes, because you're getting a cheap but decent game in the process. If you're not looking for another Remote, wait a month or two for the used copies to start popping up on shelves. As stated before, buying it new means the game price is only $10, so the used price of the game alone can't be much higher than that. It is a good game with an extreme amount of content, but if you can wait, then wait. It's not like it's going anywhere.

It's definitely something that caters to that casual audience, especially those that were inducted into video gaming with the Wii. The question is, are they still up for it, or has the Wii satisfied their curiosity? Time will tell.

October 19, 2013

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD

Blew me away...again.

Upon hearing Nintendo was giving a facelift to a previously released AAA title, I suppose the two main feelings I had were confusion and skepticism.

Pictured here.

Confusion because rehashing something from ten years ago in HD is not something the Big N does, no matter how good it originally was. To me, it's a money-grubbing tactic that companies use when they've got nothing else. They're all out of ideas and have to attempt to capitalize on what's worked in the past.

Skepticism because it's Nintendo. I mean, come on, really? I know the Zelda series is a big deal, but really? I didn't know if I fully believed it. But then they revealed it in a Nintendo Direct, so I had to accept it was true.

After playing through it, I have come to partially accept it, but still have some trepidation in giving it heaps of praise. Yes, it was good, but it was always good. If I only sing praises, does that mean I'm okay with them re-releasing other past titles with a new skin? My initial feelings of worry are still there, no matter how good the game turned out to be. Seeing as how it is Nintendo, I'm not too worried, especially with the current and future Wii U/3DS lineup. If they did it again, though, I'd start to get scared. I will accept them doing it as an (extremely effective) experiment, and leave it at that for now.

But on to the game itself. Damn, it was good. The tiny changes/improvements make all the difference in presenting a much smoother, flowing game experience. Doubtless you can find reviews of the game itself in over a decade of internet activity, so there's really not any point in me talking about the story, characters, and the like. Instead, I want to talk about some of the changes between the original GameCube release and the current Wii U one. This assumes you have played the original release sometime between 2002 and 2013.

Quick List of Changes

  • Items can now be equipped via the GamePad in real time. No more pausing to set items to buttons. Just drag and drop. If you're in a hectic spot, it is still possible to pause while setting items
  • Your Sail is not an item in the sub-screen. You just push "A" in your boat to pop it up. The same applies for the Cannon, Grappling Hook, and Wind Waker itself
  • The GamePad displays the dungeon maps (once you find them) and you can easily switch between floors and see treasures, bosses, etc. You also have a little Link head that displays both your current location and the direction you're facing, so you don't have to try and figure out where the heck in the room you are. If that's still not helpful enough, the map has a zoom function as well
  • After gaining information from a Fishman, you can access it right from your map, without having to call him over again
  • You have a cursor on the GamePad of where your boat is on the Great Sea, moving in real time
  • The GamePad's gyroscope can be used to aim the Bow, Boomerang, etc. I played this way until I got to a boss where it became too awkward to try and run/roll around while trying to aim/throw my Grappling Hook. Thankfully, there is an option to turn this feature off and play the old-fashioned, right-stick way
  • The HUD can be completely eliminated from the TV screen. It was cool to see it that way for a while, but it became tedious very quickly to have to look down at my lap every ten seconds to check things
  • In addition to the already-agreeable camera, you can now move around in first-person mode. You can also move while aiming with certain items (e.g. Boomerang, etc.) in this camera view
  • You can change direction while swinging on your Grappling Hook. You don't have to stop, rotate and start swinging again. It's very nice
  • Obviously, everything looks absolutely gorgeous in 1080p widescreen. The colors are vibrant, the visuals eye-catching, and the cartoon-esque style (originally controversial) really feels at home at this resolution. I think Wind Waker might be the most expressive Zelda game, partly due to things like Link's personality and facial expressions
  • You can obtain a Swift Sail, which lets you move across the sea much faster. For people that have played the original version, you will scream with glee. I vividly remember having to sail from one island to a distant other, and having time to leave the room, make a sandwich, eat half of it, then returning to find I had almost arrived at my destination. The Swift Sail also changes the wind to be at your back no matter which way you're turned
  • Getting hit while in your boat won't knock you out of your boat (unless it's a hard, hard hit)
  • Hero Mode (in which you take double damage and no recovery hearts can be found) is available right from the start
  • The Tingle Tuner, in which you needed a connected GBA to implement, has been replaced by the Tingle Bottle. You can use it to upload Pictographs to Miiverse for all to see and share. It's a nice feature
  • The Pictograph Box can now hold 12 Pictos as opposed to the original 3
  • You can download Pictographs via Miiverse. That means that if you're trying to complete the Nintendo Gallery and have passed a certain point where you can no longer get a character's photo, you can turn to Miiverse for help
  • The Deku Leaf has a cursor on the ground where you will land
  • The Cannon has a projection line as to where your bombs will go
  • Five Triforce charts have been replaced with the Triforce Shards themselves, meaning you don't have to spend a fortune in Rupees and time in getting them deciphered
There are more changes I missed, I'm sure. Attention to detail is really what sets Nintendo apart in this case. There have been other HD re-releases for games (e.g. Okami, Metal Gear series, Devil May Cry, etc.), but for most of them, the things that initially annoyed people are still there. An HD upscale is only that. Obvious flaws and irritations noticed the first time around aren't seen as worth changing. This is why I enjoyed Wind Waker HD so much more than those other re-releases. The gameplay itself has been fine-tuned to an insane degree. And the fact that Nintendo decided to pretty much do it themselves instead of letting an outside company really shows how much they care.

Is it worth $50? I say yes, especially to those that haven't had the joy of playing it before. It really stands out as one of the best games in the series, and with these new tweaks, the argument is even stronger. It's a major reason to pick up a Wii U if you've been on the fence so far.

Nintendo took their old technology and seamlessly integrated it into the new. Just talking about using the Wii U GamePad for a game released in 2003, and having it work better than the original controller speaks volumes. Having the two work together is what really made the difference. Instead of saying, "Oh, yeah, you can use the GamePad. The buttons are the same as the GameCube controller, so it's nothing new, just looks different," they instead choose to say, "Hey, we're going to actually use the functionality and features of this thing to really incorporate it as a huge part of the game." The number of changes really make the game feel like it could have been released today for the first time, and it would be just as successful. But the changes don't affect the main gameplay or story. It's still the same game at its core. Nintendo has managed to make a decade-old adventure feel new and fresh, even to those that have already experienced the journey countless times. I cannot applaud them enough for that. But I also shake my finger to warn them not to expect to be able to do it again any time soon.