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Game Review: Yoshi’s Island

Yoshi's Island

Original Release: 11 October 2002
Original Platform: Game Boy Advance
Virtual Console Release: 24 April 2014
Price: £6.29

While Kirby is my homeboy and there isn’t a game on the planet starring him I wouldn’t play, Yoshi also holds a very special place in my heart (if for nothing else, because he’s allowed me to kill him so many times to pull off an effective super jump in New Super Mario Bros. U). The original SNES version of Yoshi’s Island isn’t available to play on any of Nintendo’s current systems (I understand this has something to do with copyright and the chips that were included in the original cartridge), but in its place we do have Super Mario Advance 3, the Game Boy Advance port of the game. For those who played the original I’m sure this isn’t ideal, but I since I haven’t I was perfectly happy to pick up the GBA version of what is, to be quite honest, a masterclass in platforming perfection.

Kirby's really let himself go lately...

Kirby’s really let himself go lately…

The Plot

It’s a Mario spin-off platformer, so you don’t really need a lot of story to get things going, but what plot there is is undeniably adorable.

Taking place long before Mario ever had to set out to rescue Princess Peach ad nauseam, our story begins when a stork is on his way to deliver a baby Mario and Luigi to their new parents. While in flight the stork is attacked by Kamek, who foresees that these brothers will be nothing but trouble for Baby Bowser when he grows up. Kamek manages to grab Luigi, but Mario slips away and tumbles towards the ocean.

Thankfully Mario’s resourceful and manages to safely land himself on Yoshi’s Island. Mario has a very deep bond with Luigi and can psychically sense where he is. The Yoshis, being the good-hearted creatures that they are, agree to carry Mario across the island to find his missing brother.

That's what you get for chasing me!

That’s what you get for chasing me!

The Gameplay

While the original version included Super Mario World 2 in its title and this version is part of the Super Mario Advance series, it plays very differently to anything starring the grownup version of the red plumber. It has standard 2D side-scrolling platforming with jumping and running, but controlling a Yoshi is a very different beast.

The first thing that sets a Yoshi game apart from a Mario game is the lack of a timer. So long as you have baby Mario on your back (and there aren’t any enemies running after you), you can take each stage at your leisure. Coming into contact with an enemy will knock baby Mario off your back, and you have a limited amount of time to get him back (how much time you have is dependent on how many stars you have found littered throughout a level) – run out of time and Kamek will come and grab him, and you’ll have to restart the level.

While you can still jump on enemies heads to defeat them, it’s actually far more fun (and completely essential to gameplay) that you use Yoshi’s tongue to grab them, eat them, and then crap them out as eggs. These eggs can then be used as projectiles to defeat larger enemies, bosses, or to reach items that are either hidden or too far away to get to by just flutter jumping.

The game is split over six worlds, each with eight stages, and these are some of the most gorgeous things you are ever going to see. The entire game has been visually designed like drawings done with crayons, which gives it a very child-like and whimsical feel. The visuals are accompanied by equally magical music that create some of the happiest environments I think I’ve ever encountered in a game. Don’t let the cuteness fool you though – Yoshi’s Island has some devilishly tricky sections and many hidden items littered throughout each stage (finding all the hidden items in a particular world will unlock bonus stages unique to this version of the game). I died a good few many times, and checkpoints are just a little further apart than you’d like, but the game succeeds at being so damn gorgeous that you just don’t mind repeating certain levels over and over again.

The fact that this is a GBA port does mean that the screen is zoomed in to compensate for the GBA’s smaller screen size. This means that parts of the stage which would have been perfectly viewable in the SNES version are out of shot here, and this requires that you explore each stage a little more thoroughly than would have been the case in the original. As part of the Wii U Virtual Console I opted to play the game mostly on the GamePad alone, which doubles up quite nicely as an oversized GBA. With screen smoothing enabled it looks absolutely fine on a TV as well, but then the sound takes a bit of a hit. It won’t ruin the game by any means, but my personal feeling is that since this was designed for a small screen, play it on a small screen.

Yoshi never wants to come out of there again.

Yoshi never wants to come out of there again.

The Feelings

Enchanted.

It’s very rare that a game manages to balance being fanciful, challenging and engaging, but Yoshi’s Island did just that. There really isn’t a bad thing you can say about it because it does absolutely nothing wrong. Now a mature 20-year-old, Yoshi’s Island is as competent and compelling a game (if not more so) than most of what’s on the market today, and deserves to be played by anyone who enjoys platformers (or just wants to let their inner child loose on a mad run for a while).

My Final Rating: 10 / 10

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Posted by on December 17, 2015 in Game Review

 

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Game Review: Kirby: Nightmare in Dream Land

Kirby NiDLOriginal Release: 26 September 2003
Original Platform: Game Boy Advance
Virtual Console Release: 17 July 2014
Price: £6.29

When you love a game enough, you’ll own multiple copies of it on as many platforms as possible. For example, I own Kirby’s Adventure on the Wii U (a terrible version owing to the limitations of the PAL NES), 3DS (as a 3D Classic, which is a fantastic version) and again on Wii U in the form of Nightmare in Dream Land, an enhanced remake for the Game Boy Advance.

Some might say that owning that many versions of the same Kirby game is excessive, but you couldn’t be more wrong. People who think that clearly just weren’t hugged enough as a child and have grown up to become stunted adults unable to see the wonder of having all these versions of the pink one’s first home console adventure. I don’t judge these people, and I certainly wouldn’t ban them from my home. But if they hang around they’re not getting the good coffee and they certainly can’t play with my Kirby amiibo.

Oh Wispy, it's time to give you another ass whipping!

Oh Whispy, it’s time to give you another ass whipping!

The Plot

Being as pink and adorable as Kirby is can be exhausting, which is why the little guy takes frequent naps. Unlike his other naps, however, this one wasn’t filled with glorious dreams. Worried by this Kirby goes off to the Fountain of Dreams to check that everything’s OK, where he discovers that the Star Rod, the source of the Fountain’s powers, has been stolen and broken by King Dedede.

The broken Star Rod pieces are now being held by Whispy Woods, Paint Roller, Mr. Shine and Mr. Bright, Kracko, Heavy Mole, Meta Knight, and King Dedede himself. Without the Fountain all of Dream Land’s inhabitants are starting to get a little ratty because, without dreams, they can’t get a decent night’s sleep.

To restore order to Dream Land’s nap times Kirby will have to journey long and far to beat the crap out of those holding on to the Star Rod fragments.

Let Kirby's gentle melodies lull you off to dream land...

Let Kirby’s gentle melodies lull you off to dream land…

The Gameplay

Nightmare in Dream Land is a traditional platformer, so the main goal is to get from the left-hand side of the screen to the right while trying not to take damage from enemies in the process. What makes most Kirby games more suited to young gamers is the fact that, unlike the likes of Mario, he isn’t bound to the ground and can inflate and fly whenever the player chooses. In most courses this means that the majority of ground-based obstacles can be avoided should the player so choose.

What Kirby’s Adventure introduced to the series (absent from Kirby’s first game, Kirby’s Dream Land) is Kirby’s signature copy ability. Most enemies have certain powers (a laser, a sword, etc.) that Kirby can steal by inhaling the enemy and swallowing them. These powers make getting around the levels significantly easier, but certain ones are also essential to solving certain puzzles and finding the game’s many hidden items.

As with most Kirby games Nightmare in Dream Land isn’t particularly difficult and won’t take you tremendous amounts of time to finish the main story. The main challenge comes in trying to find all of the hidden rooms and collectables, and it was with great pride that this became the first Kirby game I’ve 100%-ed 🙂

Graphically the game has all the charm you would expect from the Game Boy Advance, and it translates very well on the Wii U’s Virtual Console, either by playing it on the Gamepad or playing it full screen on the TV (in which case I would recommend turning screen smoothing on, otherwise the game can be a bit pixellated). As with all GBA Virtual Console games, however, multiplayer link up has been disabled.

A great personal victory.

A great personal victory.

The Feelings

As always, Kirby elicits feelings of pure joy and elation in me. I wish I could explain it (and all of the gods above know I’ve tried), but there’s just something about seeing this little guy dance when he beats a boss that gives me one of those smiles where happiness goes straight through you.

Kirby’s Adventure was a delightful little game that pushed the original NES’ hardware to the limits with its presentation. Nightmare in Dream Land retains all of the joy and fun of the original and breathes new life into it with its updated graphics and sound. You also get three mini games that weren’t included in the original thrown into the mix, so there’s really nothing here to complain about. But even if you were to complain, please don’t think that I would think any less of you or your inability to feel happiness.

My Final Rating: 7 / 10

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Posted by on August 6, 2015 in Game Review

 

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Game Review: The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap

LoZ Minish CapOriginal Release: 12 November 2004
Original Platform: Game Boy Advance
Virtual Console Release: 29 May 2014
Price: £6.29

While the original Game Boy was the first console I owned that really got me into the world of gaming (and, owing to its size, made me mildly proficient in the use of heavy objects as weapons), nothing quite holds a candle to my clear, bright pink Game Boy Advance. She’s a little beaten, yellowed, and missing her battery cover, but I still haul her out every now and then when the mood takes me.

My love of the Game Boy Advance and my re-sparked interest in the Legend of Zelda series (courtesy of The Wind Waker HD) made getting this little gem a reasonable decision. The Wii U’s Gamepad doubles up as a decent GBA stand-in, with the added bonus being hearing the GBA startup music in glorious surround sound when blown up on the TV.

There's something on my head!!

There’s something on my head!!

The Plot

Taking place early in the Zelda timeline (the earliest at the time of its release, and currently only second in the timeline after Skyward Sword), The Minish Cap follows an incarnation of Link as he tries to rescue Princess Zelda and the kingdom of Hyrule with the help of the tiny, pixy-like Minish people. Zelda has been turned to stone by the villain Vaati, a Picori (the Hyrulean name for the Minish)-turned evil wizard-turned destroyer of the Picori Blade, the precursor to the hero’s Master Sword seen in later games.

According to legend the Picori Blade was used in a bygone era by a hero decked in a green tunic to drive monsters and darkness from the land of Hyrule. With the blade destroyed the monsters and the darkness have returned. Link, accompanied by Ezlo, a Picori-turned sassy bird-shaped hat, must re-forge the Picori Blade, defeat Vaati and his minions, save Zelda, and do the sort of everyday things that heroes of an ancient age were expected to do.

I beat you in The Wind Waker and I'll beat you here too!

I beat you in The Wind Waker and I’ll beat you here too!

The Gameplay

As with most Zelda games, Minish Cap is an adventure/puzzle game that requires the player to go from area to area and dungeon to dungeon solving a series of puzzles, beating the requisite dungeon bosses and collecting the necessary items to continue on with the quest. In this instance, the main items that require collecting are the Four Elements which are needed to re-forge the Picori Blade. There are also the usual side quests that do things like power up your weapons and increase the amount of life you have, which is useful for later on in the story but not at all necessary to plot development.

The game itself is played from a top-down perspective similar to the earlier Zelda games on the NES, SNES and Game Boy Color, with items being assigned to particular buttons (which require frequent swapping out depending on what needs to be done next).

The key gameplay mechanic in Minish Cap is the ability to shrink down to the size of the Picori and explore otherwise inaccessible areas of the game world. This can’t just be done willy nilly, however, and you’ll need to find portals left by the Minish in order to shrink down to their size; these usually take the form of tree stumps and cracked Chinese vases.

Ezlo, your constant companion since he’s taken up residence on Link’s head, serves as a far less irritating version of Navi from Ocarina of Time since he’ll help you out with hints if you’re either lost or, far more common with me, have forgotten what it is your meant to be doing, but he’ll only do it if you specifically ask him. He’s also a source of great one-liners and general sassiness (far more than you’d expect from your average hat), so you don’t mind taking him along for the ride.

Of course a Zelda game isn’t a Zelda game without Link rolling around and grunting. I have yet to discover how this helps you apart from moving around marginally quicker than just walking normally, but without it all you’d be left with is the game’s colourful visuals and full soundtrack, and that just wouldn’t do.

Also, Tingle and his brethren are everywhere. What’s not to love?

LoZ Minish Cap_end

The Feelings

The Minish Cap is a somewhat short game. Unlike other Zelda games where you can expect to pour a good many hours into completing just the main story, I managed to get through the game’s main story, a good few side quests, and get hopelessly lost on numerous occasions in around 12 hours. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing since it does manage to pack a good story into its relatively short playtime, but it is best to bear this in mind before going in.

With that being said the game still has all of the polish and fun that you would expect from the series. The puzzles are clever and challenging without ever feeling unfair, the game world is beautifully vibrant in a distinctively GBA way and the characters you come into contact with are very endearing.

And anyway, you play the entire game with a sassy bird hat telling you what to do. What more could you possibly want?

My Final Rating: 7 / 10

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Posted by on July 1, 2015 in Game Review

 

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Game Review: Wario Land: Super Mario Land 3

Wario Land_Cover

Original Release: May 13, 1994
Original Platform: Game Boy
Virtual Console Release: February 16, 2012
Price: £3.60

I must confess going into this review that this game holds a very special place in my heart. Back when I was but a wee lad who had successfully whined enough at his mother to buy him the original Game Boy (what a glorious brick of a machine it was), this was the first game I got for it.

Whilst I imagine virtually everyone who has ever played a video game has, at some point, played something starring Mario in his constant attempts to prevent Princess Peach from being kidnapped, playing as Wario is a decidedly different kettle of fish. As a kid I remember actually feeling quite naughty playing this game, as virtuous attempts to save the damsel in distress are chucked out the window in favour of pure, unadulterated greed. It appeals to me even more now as an adult as I would gladly run around an island beating up anthropomorphic ducks if it meant earning a fortune and buying my own castle. Couple that with the fact that this game, in my opinion, started one of the best platforming franchises in gaming and you have a winner on your hands!

Wario Land_LoadThe Plot

Poor Wario. After a valiant struggle against Mario at the end of Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (itself a very good game, and the reason for the ‘Super Mario Land’ title tacked on at the end of this game) Wario was ejected from the castle he stole from his nemesis and now has nowhere to live.

Like any good bad guy, however, you just can’t keep his rotund figure down for long, and Wario has an ingenious plan to get back at Mario: BUY AN EVEN BIGGER CASTLE! But he’s not going to earn the funds to do that by getting a regular 9 to 5 and resorting to efficient financial planning, oh no. Instead, Wario decides to steal an enormous statue of Princess Peach from Captain Syrup and the Brown Sugar Pirates, currently residing on Kitchen Island. Along the way he will also beat up anything he comes into contact with and steal any treasure that happens to be left lying around the island (now that, my friends, is an example of poor financial planning). Not being the most friendly chap out there he doesn’t have any friends to call on for help, but he does make the most out of some smashing hats, and that’ll get him quite far in his adventure.

Wario Land_Little Wario

The Gameplay

Wario Land has its roots in the Game Boy Mario games, as well as the larger body of Mario games on the systems of the time, and takes its cues from them, so none of the initial controls should be very difficult to master. Kitchen Island acts as the overworld which is then divided into seven worlds with multiple stages each. Each world comes with its obligatory boss who needs to be defeated before you can move on to the next world. Before that you will need to collect at least 10 coins in most of the stages in order to progress to the next one (you gotta spend money to make money, after all). It is vitally important to collect as much loot as you can in each stage, however, as the end of each stage presents you with mini games that you can play to increase your total coin stash. The more cash you have amassed at the end of the game will ultimately decide what kind of new lodging Wario gets to buy himself – after several play throughs I’ve never managed to get him anything bigger than a habitable tree trunk, but here’s hoping you can do better by him that I could.

So far as controlling Wario goes it’s all fairly simple. He walks, creeps, crawls and jumps like Mario does. The primary difference is that, unlike Mario, Wario jumping on a foe won’t kill them, but rather stun them. Most enemies can be stunned and then picked up and thrown and other enemies, making for a decidedly more brutish romp through the Mushroom Kingdom than Mario could ever hope to give you. The only flaw in Wario’s design is that he doesn’t so much jump as he floats. No man as corpulent as he is should be allowed to defy the laws of gravity in such a wanton manner. It’s by no means game breaking, and once you have gotten used to it it’s easy enough to judge where he’s going to land, but in a game that is otherwise masterfully crafted it does stand out like a bit of a sore thumb.

While Mario has his array of mushrooms, flowers, and feathers to aid him in his transformations, Wario has his aforementioned collection of stylish hats. These different hats, donned by finding different pots hidden throughout the game’s stages, allow for 3 different transformations: Bull Wario (who can shoulder charge and take out objects and enemies with greater ease), Dragon Wario (who can spit fire out of the hat’s nostrils) and Jet Wario (who can fly for short distances – although it should be noted that the author of this review in no way endorses flight that would put your neck under that much strain). Being hit by an enemy will transform him into Mini Wario, who isn’t nearly as useless as Mini Mario, and can trot into otherwise hard to reach places.

Wario Land_Jet Hat

The Feelings

How this game makes you feel ultimately depends on how dude-broish you are in your day-to-day gaming jaunts. If, like myself, there isn’t a strand of it in you you’ll probably revel in getting to be the would-be villain out for nothing but self-gain and fabulous-hat-wearing. If you like to smash beer cans against your head and chest bump because you managed to get through a stage, then you’re going to find this a bit trickier, but only because it’s difficult to hold a handheld gaming device AND smash a can against your head at the same time. Go for chest bumping, it’ll be easier.

Whatever your preference, this is a finely crafted game that goes above and beyond what you would expect from both a platformer and a Game Boy game. If you have some spare change floating around in your pocket I strongly suggest downloading this little guy and giving him a go. You haven’t lived until you’ve proudly walked through an enemy-infested beach billowing fire from your head.

My Final Rating: 8 / 10

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Posted by on April 7, 2014 in Game Review

 

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Game Review: Kirby’s Dream Land

KDL_BoxartOriginal Release: August 2, 1993
Original Platform: Game Boy
Virtual Console Release: June 30, 2011
Price: £3.60

For all I can be a bit strange at times and I enjoy a movie with a good disembowelling as much as the next person, I also pride myself on having a thriving inner child. This side of me is particularly apparent in the games I enjoy playing. I’ve played the likes of Resident Evil and ZombiU and nearly crapped myself, and the joint analogue stick controls on FPSes just confuse me. So, when it comes to video games, I prefer to keep it cute and colourful. Like, ‘my-corneas-are-burning-it’s-so-bright’ colourful. For reasons I don’t truly understand I also derive immense amounts of joy from playing really old games on really new hardware, and the good people over at Nintendo have made a lot more money out of me from their back catalogue than they have off of anything new they’ve released.

This brings us to Kirby’s Dream Land, or, as I like to think of it, the childhood I never got to experience. I owned a Game Boy back in the day, but at the tender young age of 7 I wasn’t really earning enough in terms of a salary to be rolling around in glorious grey cartridges. Also, I was decidedly less strange as a child, and I don’t think this game’s cuteness would have appealed to me back then.

The Plot

Whilst I didn’t get to play this game as a child, it does keep to the same premise of so many of the games that I did enjoy from the 8-bit era: you don’t need a hell of a story just to run from one end of the screen to the other while avoiding enemies.

Loosely, the game takes place in Dream Land, which is Kirby’s home. All of the food in Dream Land has been stolen by King Dedede (who, in later games, is one of Kirby’s nemeses/best friends) and is being kept in his castle. It’s up to Kirby to venture through Dream Land, beat the crap out of all who oppose him (but in an adorable way since Kirby is, technically, a child) and get the food back. The story doesn’t actually affect the gameplay in any meaningful way, but it does add to the overall charm of the experience.

KDL_Title

The Gameplay

The game itself, and this is true for most of the games in this franchise, is incredibly easy, even in comparison to other platformers of its time. This series of games is intended to be an introduction to games and is primarily aimed at children. Whilst I can imagine that watching a hypothetical future child of my own playing this would be overwhelmingly endearing, I believe the only way to truly experience it is to be in your 20s and shout vile obscenities when an exploding coconut (which you never see in time) lands on dear Kirby’s head. Many a night I have laid in bed, cursing these coconuts and vowing my revenge when I save Dream Land.

But I digress. In addition to being quite simple, Kirby’s introductory outing is also quite short – split over 5 levels divided up into a number of smaller areas, you can play through the entire game in a one hour sitting. The goal is simple: Kirby starts at one end of the stage and, by defeating or avoiding various enemies and keeping an eye out on the terrain, you need to make it to the other end of the stage. Each level has a mid-way boss who is quite simple to defeat, and at the end of the level will be the final boss who can also be defeated with relative ease. The only boss who will provide any real difficulty is King Dedede himself, who has a tremendously annoying habit of inhaling you and then spitting you out across the room.

So far as your enemies go, they’re all rather innocuous (except the birds – those things will fly out of nowhere and take you down. They have also brought my vengeance upon themselves) and, provided you know what each enemy type can do, it’s easy enough to dispatch whatever you come across by inhaling them. Failing all else Kirby can fly over most obstacles, so there isn’t really an awful lot that can hinder your progress.

Then there’s the music. I imagine if children’s dreams had a soundtrack, it would sound a lot like what you’ll find in this game. You know that music you just listen to and you can’t help but smile because you feel your soul is being hugged by a baby unicorn? It’s like that. And don’t get me started on the little tune that plays when Kirby beats a main boss and does a little dance. I honestly don’t think there’s a happier sound in the world, and thankfully it has been retained in most of the franchise’s later games.

The only thing that may strike people who have played later games in the franchise before this one is the lack of Kirby’s copy ability. The copy ability, in later games, allows Kirby to inhale his enemy and duplicate its powers (swords, spears, spikes etc.), but here all you can do is inhale enemies and then spit them back out as projectiles. The only power that you will be able to make use of is the microphone, which allows Kirby to blast his voice and destroy any enemies that appear on-screen. I can do a similar trick whereby I sing out loud and watch all nearby persons run for cover. On a particularly good day I can make their ears bleed.

KDL_Dance

The Feelings

Oh, the feelings that Kirby will elicit! If you have any soul, you will walk away from this game feeling like the child inside you has been reborn. Once you have managed to achieve your vengeance against the birds that keep flying directly at you and the coconuts that like to drop on you, you will be able to go out into the world feeling all warm and fuzzy inside as though a kindle of kittens (that is the proper collective noun for them – I like my readers to leave feeling like they’ve learned something) has taken up residence in your heart. Seriously, just go play the game and see what I mean.

My Final Rating: 7 / 10

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Posted by on March 8, 2014 in Game Review

 

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