Average User Score: tbdJul 29, 2014The Wii U has no shortage of decent combat racers, and Super Toy Cars is the latest addition to its arsenal. A competent game all-around, it nevertheless offers few reasons to jump in if you already own similar titles.
The atmosphere of Super Toy Cars is obviously inspired by Micro Machines, with races taking place on settings such as a child's bedroom, a garage, and a kitchen. The pickings are slim, however, and the number of different ambients (merely four) doesn't come close to, say, Micro Machines V4, which was released way back in 2006. The graphics aren't the sharpest ever, but pack some charm, while the music is enjoyable enough.
When it comes to gameplay, the game feels closer to the Mario Kart series, eschewing a isometric perspective for a camera that follows each player around. Unlockable car models are available, each with very different characteristics, adding more strategy to each race. The physics engine seems a bit rough around the edges, sadly, while the weapon arsenal is limited and very bland.
The best feature of Super Toy Cars is a track editor, which puts the Wii U gamepad to great use. It features a very user-friendly, touch-based interface, allowing you to come up with and save several custom stages. The lack of a greater variety of ambients definitely hurts, but there's great fun to be had in the experience of moving dots, placing objects and coming up with your own ideas for tracks.
If you're looking for a good multiplayer experience, Super Toy Cars is serviceable and enjoyable enough for the price. The game does plenty of things decently, with the track editor being the only genuinely great idea. The existence of superior titles on the console (such as Mario Kart 8 and TNT Racers: Nitro Machines Edition) can make it a tough sell, but combat racing aficionados may find it compelling enough to give it a go.
Rating: 6.0… Expand
Average User Score: 7.0Jul 21, 2014Metroidvania fans on the Wii U, rejoice: the e-Shop just got what must be the best title in the genre since the olds days of, well, Metroid and Castlevania.
Taking place on a colorful, vibrant, video-game-reference-filled version of the Mexican countryside, Guacamelee puts you in the shoes of Juan, an agave farmer who ends up transforming into a supernatural luchador. In the story, Juan has to rescue his childhood sweetheart, El Presidente's daughter, from the evil skeleton charro Carlos Calaca. What could be a boring damsel-in-distress story quickly turns into something else entirely, thanks to top-notch writing and loads of funny and interesting characters.
While the setting and storyline set the scenery wonderfully, it's when it comes to gameplay that Guacamelee soars to classic heights. You'll be treated to all the tried-and-true elements of Metroidvania games, including unlockable powers, special costumes, immersive exploration with loads of secrets and extremely enjoyable backtracking. True to the luchador theme, however, combat is its own thing here. There are combos, dodging, dimension-swapping and great implementation of every newfound power into the system. The overall game design is a thing of beauty, with every small element finding its rightful place among the title's many challenges.
Speaking of challenge, be prepared: this is a hard game that, unlike so many titles these days, doesn't cater to the lower common denominator. But like pretty much everything else in display, the learning curve is implemented astonishingly well, easing you into the requirements that come with every new power. There are plenty of checkpoints, too, meaning you won't have to replay entire sections just because you missed a specially tricky jump.
As the long subtitle suggests, this version of Guacamelee is one step ahead of the original that came to PC and Playstation 3 last year. There are massive new sections, including a flowering canal and an ominous volcano, both complete with new villages, NPCs, collectibles and sidequests. These are seamlessly integrated into the open-ended adventure, and seem to significantly boost the overall playtime (I finished the game in 9 hours, but needed a total of 17 hours to get to the true ending). Also incorporated in the core game here is the previously-DLC area of El Infierno, which, as a minigame-heavy section rather than a massive explorable one, is one of the game's few letdowns.
Guacamelee is a title that keeps surprising you all of the way, making it one of the best 2D exploration experiences I've ever encountered. There is even an especially juicy set of collectibles that only become available very late in the game, when you're already thinking the content is about to run out. 2014 has already been quite a year for the Wii U e-Shop, and Guacamelee is definitely one of its crowning jewels.
Rating: 9.5… Expand
Average User Score: 8.0Jul 21, 2014Expansive semi-open world adventures aren't really the most common thing on the Wii U, and Darksiders 2 is one of the earliest available options for fans of the genre to get their fix.
It's fitting that this game came to a Nintendo console, because the gameplay structure is very obviously based on The Legend of Zelda: you brave dungeons in search of keys, a dungeon map, and a new item, with a boss encounter in the end. The actual controls are closer to a traditional brawler, however, with plenty of button-mashing and combo options. It is a pleasant structure that should sway fans of both action RPGs and hack 'n' slash titles.
Sadly, some problems do take away from the experience, beginning with some stylistic choices. You play as Death, one of the four riders of the Apocalypse, and it's fair to say his character design looks straight out of a He-Man cartoon. He isn't ominous or mysterious: he's just a muscular, testosterone-filled zombie thing. His bad-boy personality is also quite annoying, and the world itself is a bit too dreary to be as inviting for exploration as settings like Hyrule and Skyrim. The storyline itself is confusing and uninteresting, especially if you haven't played the first game in the series.
The Wii U gamepad is used for inventory management, which works quite well. The effort to integrate the hardware into the game here is commendable, and way better than third parties generally offer on the console. Still, I couldn't find an option to make it display a map, and that's certainly something the game needs. I found myself pausing often to look at each area's general design, since the on-screen map display is very restrictive. There are also some quite sketchy motion controls in place for swimming sections, but thankfully those can be turned off.
Most problems in the game can definitely be overlooked in face of the enjoyable action, but one of them is absolutely inexcusable: four or so hours in, I ran into a game-breaking bug. I accidentally knocked a puzzle piece out of reach, and as a result couldn't complete the dungeon. The game's auto-saving feature meant that I had no option other than restarting from scratch. Looking for a solution online, I found out that there are several other known glitches, none of which were the one I ran into. This sort of careless design is one of my largest pet peeves with the game industry nowadays, and one that I can't really overlook.
Calling Darksiders II a darker version of a Zelda game would be somewhat accurate, and this alone will be enough to convince some gamers to take the plunge. The game is a decidedly fun experience while it lasts, only without the level of polish seen on better titles. Its world, characters, and lore lack charm, and glitches threaten to cut the enjoyable hack 'n' slash action way short.
Rating: 6.0… Expand
Average User Score: 9.1Jul 14, 2014Coming in at a time when the Wii U needs heavy-hitting powerhouses to turn its fortunes around, Mario Kart 8 is breath of fresh multiplayer air in the console's growing line of must-have titles. The "killer app" title would fit quite well here; it's not the absolute best game on the Wii U right now, but it's certainly the one with the largest widespread appeal.
As anyone can immediately tell, this is a game with great attention to detail. The pristine HD graphics are amazing, and they're made even better by the extensive replay options after each race. You can watch as characters full of personality laugh at each other, challenge each other, stare at each other in disdain. It's funny, it's quirky, and it's exactly the sort of thing that makes Nintendo games memorable.
The single-player mode is fun enough, but it lacks in secrets, cameos, "wow" moments, and the assorted mix of cool stuff that makes solo experiences memorable. It's nice both as an evergreen game for quick-burst sessions (something the Wii U lacked beforehand) and for getting the gist of controls in order to not embarrass yourself in the mode that is real reason this game is great: the multiplayer.
As anyone who ever played any Mario Kart before will attest, this is the ultimate local multiplayer experience right here. It's fun, it's chaotic, but it's also very nuanced and incredibly reliant on skill. It's the sort of game anyone can pick up and play, especially in lower difficulties, but it takes quite a while to master. Online multiplayer also impresses: it's the best it's ever been in any Nintendo game, with robust tournament options. The one letdown is battle mode, which takes place in actual tracks rather than custom-built arenas. Let's hope future downloadable content fixes this, as this is a mode that used to take quite a chunk of my gaming time in previous instalments.
As one of Nintendo's premier franchises, Mario Kart once again impresses and offers one of the most universal reasons yet to get a Wii U. The quality is definitely here, and the focus on multiplayer means it's a game that will likely last for the entire console generation, making it a very easy buy.
Rating: 8.5… Expand
Average User Score: 9.1Jul 7, 2014Everyone's favorite pink blob finally arrives on the 3DS and, for better or worse, his game is exactly what one would expect.
In Triple Deluxe, you'll control Kirby as he swallows foes and gains abilities, defeating scary bosses and solving puzzles that start simple and get progressively harder. Each stage holds a number of sun stones, the game's main collectible, and a number of them is needed to access boss stages. There are also hidden keychains, themed after Kirby games of yore, which get neatly displayed in a gallery once found. All in all, there's a bit of a "if it ain't broken, don't fix it" mentality permeating all of the gameplay, which means that it's hard to avoid feeling a sense of déjà-vu. It's pleasant as always, but unlikely to provide "wow" moments.
Triple Deluxe's one new feature of note is called hypernova. By eating a miracle fruit, Kirby becomes able to swallow objects of humongous sizes, which is goofy good fun. This way, he can solve puzzles in interesting new ways, even if the abundance of cutscene-like moments of gameplay means the new ability overstays its welcome in some stages. For example: if you need Kirby to swallow an enormous tree, all you need to do is press the button, and then be treated with an animation that last several seconds, without the need of further controller input. These animations start out as a curious little novelty, but it doesn't take long to realise these moments could be even better spent by actually controlling Kirby.
Aside from that, there are a couple extra game modes: Kirby Fighters is a fun but watered down Smash Bros clone, while Dedede's Drum Dash is a rhythm-based game that is unlikely to hold your attention for long.
Like most Kirby games, Triple Deluxe is good light-hearted fun, and an excellent way for younger or less experienced gamers to get their gaming fix, due to the intuitiveness of the controls and the ease of avoiding platforming traps (thanks to Kirby's flight). It also, well, features Kirby, which is reason enough to give any game a chance. Still, it really doesn't do much to differentiate itself from the plethora of Kirby games we got before, making it unlikely that this one will become a classic.
Rating: 7… Expand
Average User Score: 9.2Jul 7, 2014Retro games nowadays are a dime a dozen, but I have never played a single one that managed to capture the magic as well as Shovel Knight. Breathtaking pixel art and epic chiptune music are ever-present, but the title's greatest victory is how it mixes great game design decisions of the past with those of modern times, throwing out the window pretty much all the chaff.
Truth be told, Shovel Knight is way more than what good old NES could handle graphically, with beautiful parallax backgrounds, dozens of different colors on display at any given time, and no slowdown or flickering to be heard of. This is one of its triumphs: it doesn't try to emulate the old feeling of playing a great NES game by bombarding us with that console's shortcomings, just for the sake of nostalgia. Instead, it is an absolute greatest hits collection of features, and it's so expertly crafted that it ends up feeling like its own game.
The game is a 2D adventure platformer, and one of the good ones. It doesn't spend too much time teaching you the basics, instead allowing you to discover them as you go. There is an overworld map where you can access main stages, villages, wandering foes, and bonus levels. There is a lot of treasure to dig up, which in turn allows you to purchase upgrades to your life, magic, weapon, and armor. There are collectible music sheets representing each of the game's beautiful tracks, hidden in every corner of the map, which should be taken to a bard in the first village (who will reward you for them and play them back whenever you like). And of course, there is the story, which is simple and yet effective, with humorous segments and poignant ones. Simply put, everything is in its right place and there's lots to do and see, even if the sheer quality of what's on display makes you wish the game was a tad bit longer (it took me a little under nine hours to get everything).
The main progression sees you battling through stages with the objective of besting the eight member knights of the Order of No Quarter, before getting to access the Tower of Fate, where the game's main villain lies in waiting. The level design here is, in one word, astounding. Each stage has its own theme, being always challenging, yet fair, and finding a neat middle ground between the ruthlessness of old sidescrollers and the forgivingness of recent ones. Lives are unlimited, but dying will set you back to the latest checkpoint, causing you to lose a chunk of your precious treasure in the process (which you can get back if you reach the same point without dying again).
Aside from treasure and music sheets, each main stage also holds a new weapon. Those aren't simply rehashes of Mega Man or Castlevania items, instead being an eclectic and creative mix of useful special abilities. There are some hits and some duds, but all of them feel fresh.
Simply put, Shovel Knight doesn't feel like a homage; it feels like an actual lost NES game that has the advantage of being in touch with modern game design. It does what it sets out to do in almost flawless fashion, and manages to overcome barriers imposed by different gaming eras. Whether you experienced old NES games or not, this is a game that simply should not be missed.
Rating: 9.5… Expand
Average User Score: 8.2May 27, 2014A tight RPG with a beautiful art style, Child of Light is arguably the best digital-only game to grace the Wii U e-Shop as of 2014.
We play as Aurora, an Austrian princess who falls ill and wakes up in the picturesque world of Lemuria. The game follows Aurora's quest to get back to her duke father in Austria, while exploring the world, collecting items, gathering allies, and defeating dark beasts. It's the usual RPG fare fans of the genre are accustomed to, except from a sidescrolling perspective. The battle system is a fresh take on turn-based combat, incorporating elements of real-time strategy. It all works great, in no small part thanks to the breathtaking watercolor graphics and superb background music.
The story is a heart-warming coming-of-age tale, in which Aurora uncovers the mystery of her unexpected trip. It's well-crafted and filled with interesting characters. Fittingly for the game's overall mood, it's all told in the form of a big poem, with rhyming sentences. It's a great idea that is considerably held back by the bad quality of the overall writing, with more than a few awkward rhyming structures. The content is still appealing, but the form ends up sadly muddied.
Perhaps Child of Light's greatest triumph is its tightness. At around 15 hours, the game does away with much of the fluff that plagues some RPG titles, leaving only the strictly necessary for a memorable journey through a fantasy world. There's an extensive but easy to understand skill tree for each character as they level up, while actual equipment items give way to a simple yet deep gemstone-crafting system. It's true that the world of Lemuria could well support a more extensive quest, but the game is still a refreshing experience that can make a lasting impression (and comes for the budget price of $15, it's good to note).
Child of Light is proof that an AAA company like Ubisoft can deliver titles on a smaller scale and fill them with indie charm. More impressively, it's an arguably superior game than pretty much every recent offering by the company. If you're a fan of RPGs, or if you simply enjoy gorgeous sceneries to look at while embarking on a fantastic adventure, this is a must-have.
Rating: 9.0… Expand
Average User Score: 8.5May 2, 2014This is the same kind of Japanese RPG experience older gamers will remember from the SNES or PSOne, and I say this in the most complimentary way possible. Everything is here: an apotheotic world-saving plot, quirky characters, turn-based combat and loads of innovative features that should please old fans and new players alike.
You command a party of four characters with different backgrounds: good-boy Tiz, who has witnessed the destruction of his home village; Agnès, vestal of wind, an important religious figure; Ringabel, a mysterious womanizer who has lost his memory; and Edea, daughter to one of the main antagonists. They are filled with personality and there's a lot of character development through the story. Some dialogue sections and cutscenes overstay their welcome, but there are many genuinely interesting moments, usually featuring Ringabel and one of his antics.
Arguably, the best feature in display is the job system. The game has a very Mega Man-like way of getting new abilities: after they are defeated, some bosses give you their "job asterisk", which allows you to assign that job to any of your characters. Aside from their current job, each character may keep a number of abilities gotten by their previous ones, leading to some great opportunities to mix-and-match in search of the perfect combination.
There's also great innovation in the turn-based combat with the "Brave" and "Default" abilities: the former lets you take turns in advance in order to act more times on a single sitting, while the latter allows you to "save" action opportunities for later. It works perfectly, and adds quite a few layers of strategy to the tried-and-true formula. Another noteworthy feature is the rebuilding of Norende village, a simple and cool real-time strategy subgame that gives you access to more special abilities, weapons and items. It's also worth noting that the game features microtransactions, but don't worry: they are largely useless, and you can get everything in the game without spending a single extra dime.
The story is your typical JRPG fare, very reminiscent of earlier Final Fantasy games, and as such isn't terribly innovative. It's usually interesting enough to keep you playing, featuring a lot of twists and turns, and overall avoiding simplistic manichaeism. The world is well-built, but that still doesn't justify the humongous amount of backtracking forced on the player in the late game, which is one of the game's main flaws. The story keeps getting more intriguing precisely at that time, however, which will be a good reason for most players to persevere.
Filled with content and offering a potentially huge main campaign (at over 100 hours, it is by far my most-played game on the 3DS right now), Bravely Default is a tight package that should keep any RPG fan happy. It's Square Enix going back to its roots and doing more of what they do best.
Rating: 9.0… Expand
Average User Score: 8.9Apr 7, 2014It's been a long time since sidescrollers were the norm in the gaming world, but enthusiasts of the genre still have a lot of excellent options to get their fix. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze, with its endless simian charm and incredible atmosphere, might well be the very best of them this side of year 2000.
The Donkey Kong Country series has always been known for its attention to graphics and music, and once again Retro Studios kept true to the norm. Every single stage feels like a living, breathing environment, with staggering amounts of detail and incredibly fluid HD animation. The soundtrack was composed by the great David Wise, who wrote most of the defining tunes from the SNES series, and that should speak for itself. Better yet: graphics and sound blend together to form an even greater whole. Background animations sway to the music, from upbeat jungle themes to idyllic seaside melodies and moodier, darker compositions. This generates moments such as the absolutely breathtaking Grassland Groove, first stage of the game's Savannah-themed third world (and quite a contender for the title of greatest sidescrolling level of all time). Simply put, it's a feast for the senses.
If you think all the production value was used as an excuse for half-baked gameplay, well, think again. Tropical Freeze delivers frantic action with dynamic camera, loads of control nuance, and level design that is seamlessly integrated with the animations. It's not an easy game by any means, especially if you want to collect everything, but it's so perfectly crafted that even less experienced gamers should keep trying. It's a lesson to modern game developers: a big challenge is more than okay as long as it's part of a compelling package.
In designing their version of the Donkey Kong Country series, Retro has shown equal amounts of reverence for the Rareware-developed originals and a desire to make their own thing. Their original ideas work most of the time, but there are still some problems. Even though we have three extra Kongs to play with in Diddy, Dixie, and Cranky, they're little more than power-ups, instead of being full-fledged characters like they were in the SNES (thankfully, this is rectified in the post-ending hard mode). And of course, there's the continuing lack of animal buddies aside from Rambi the Rhino, which remains the most puzzling of decisions.
Even so, the many right choices made in Tropical Freeze make it the best title in the franchise since 1995 masterpiece Donkey Kong Country 2: Diddy's Kong Quest. It's colorful, it's charming, it's filled with the series' trademark brand of meticulously designed chaos, and that's what makes it unforgettable.
Rating: 9.5… Expand
Average User Score: 7.9Mar 24, 2014This a finely-crafted, rhythm-based, endless-running platformer. It's also, as a whole, a surprising game that proves to be much more than any random gameplay screenshot would give it credit for.
The most immediately striking feature about Runner 2 is its presentation. Simply put, it's impeccable, full of silly humor and narration to get you in the mood even before pressing start. Graphics are brightly colored and inviting. The gameplay is incredibly deep for an endless runner, featuring multiple characters to unlock, alternate paths, collectibles, and backtracking, along with some pretty tricky sections (especially on higher difficulty levels). All of this makes it a very addictive ordeal that is mostly a joy to play through.
One of the collectibles is particularly brilliant: some stages hide Famicom cartridges, and upon touching them you'll be taken to an 8-bit style bonus level that follows the same basic gameplay layout. They are tricky to complete, often tricky to find, and very fun.
The game does hiccup in a few particular areas. Each of the four worlds are very different in tone from one another, but the background never varies among stages of the same world. Worse: the music is the same throughout the entire game, a capital sin for a title based on rhythm. Whether you're running on a sunny seaside track, a creepy forest, or a fiery hellhole, you'll be listening to the same generic beat. This is a huge missed opportunity, made all the more frustrating by the fact that this is a game otherwise brimming with attention to detail.
Don't let that deter you, though, because when Runner 2 gets something right, it gets it really right. It will keep a smile on your face as you meet new enemies, learn new moves, and beat stages that get harder and harder. It's a fun and rewarding experience that deserves to be in most Wii U collections.
Rating: 8.0… Expand