So my girlfriend got her 3DS yesterday. I was both excited and a bit envious; we have (of course) separate spending accounts, so she could afford one while I couldn't, which annoys me a bit since I'm the biggest game nerd of the two of us. However, she got it primarily to be able to play Pokémon Black in daylight, since she only has a trusty old DS Phat, while I have a DSi.
The 3DS hardware looks really good; the finish is very glossy but sturdy plastic, and the Aqua Blue color looks really good. It also feels good in the hands.
But the first caveat I noticed was the D-Pad and Slide Pad: Both are very uncomfortable in my hands. I have average-sized European hands, but when holding it comfortably in my palms the D-Pad felt really awkward, as it's pretty far down on the system. The Slide Pad was even worse; it's very close to the top, and my thumb immediately felt strained when I slid it around. It also wasn't that smooth, but that might be because it was new hardware.
The screens are a bit smaller than on the DSi, but they're big enough. However, the 3D effect really leaves you wondering how many people will be able to play this without getting major eye strain and headaches. The effect is convincing – it is 3D without the glasses – but viewed slightly from a different than optimal angle and you see double, and the immersion is immediately ruined. Combine this with the fact that the Augmented Reality games Nintendo ship the 3DS with, where you have to move yourself and the 3DS around targets to shoot them, in real space, and you're bound to experience it pretty quick. It just makes you flip off the 3D pretty fast.
The 3D camera suffers from the same fate. 3D images are really cool to take, and it does look pretty amazing, but when you try to take the pictures in 3D mode, you end up looking at the screen at angles that break the 3D effect. But you need to be able to see the 3D effect to take the pictures properly, because of the 3D autofocus.
Now, my girlfriend didn't buy any games for the 3DS as she didn't want any of the launch titles, so after having played with AR and the camera for a while, she tried booting up Pokémon Black. While I didn't expect the upscale mode to look great, I was really not expecting it to look this bad; everything is really blurry. Text was painful, crisp lines were turned into half-pixel nightmares and the colors were way off. Contrast and color schemes were very different, leading to gradients looking smudged and colors that should be clear and high contrast to end up glaringly bright and faded. We were not amused.
The next step was to try to play Pokémon Black in the 1:1 scale mode. You have to hold in Start + Select when launching the game for this to be enabled, which is a silly button combination given the hardware's layout. When played in 1:1, however, the screen area you get is really small. Much smaller than a DS Phat screen, and it doesn't fix the colors either. My girlfriend said she'd play it on the 3DS, since she felt it was better than the DS Phat, but my own verdict is that it's a no-go. It's unplayable. I'd actually prefer my DS Phat over the 3DS to play my Pokémon White or any other DS game. But since I'm used to my DSi, it really is too many steps backward to be playing a DS game on the 3DS. It looks like shit.
I've been giving the 3DS a spin, and while the 3D effect is good, it's worse than I had expected. I had hoped for at least a little bit higher tolerance of viewing angles. My eyes got strained after about five minutes of playing with it, and while it might have been because the image went "out of focus" a few times while I played, that's still the real world scenario; you never sit perfectly still with the screen at a perfect distance and angle from your face. So, in a real world scenario, I'll probably find myself disabling the 3D effect most of the times.
Playing DS games on the 3DS does not work very well. You get completely botched colors and either an up-scaled blurry image, or a 1:1 image that is too tiny to be anywhere near comfortable. Keep your DS Phat, Lite or DSi about for your DS games.
Hopefully the games coming out, like Zelda and Mario Kart, won't be relying on the 3D effect for their gameplay mechanics. If they do, I might not even buy the console for myself. I am a Nintendo fan boy, and it hurts to admit that for the first time, I am disappointed in a Nintendo console.
The gameplay of SC2 is superb. While some lament its decision to stay true to its old-school RTS roots invented back in the nineties, I cherish Blizzard for being bold enough to let it bask in its own simplistic-but-hard-to-master roots. StarCraft 2 feels like the Tetris of fast-paced strategy games.
It's not the World of Warcraft of strategy games like a lot of people seemed to expect it to be, but it's the best fast-paced hardcore strategy game you'll find. And the campaign does these mechanics a great justice; it plays with the mechanics, easing you into the finer aspects of multitasking and micro-management over time, all the while keeping the gameplay interesting by changing the playing field and the rules constantly. The story supports the gameplay perfectly, giving you an intellectual reason to keep on playing.
You can change the difficulty any time you want in between missions, meaning you're never locked into a tight spot if you find a mission is too hard for you on your current difficulty.
It's great fun while it lasts, and it can last quite a while if you want to get all the achievements and unlock all the extra portraits. Not to mention the fact that the multiplayer aspect is a potentially endless hobby, one that will provide hundreds upon hundreds of hours if you're into the competitive aspects of multiplayer gaming.
There is a problem with the StarCraft II that you won't be aware of if you haven't read a lot about it beforehand, filtering out the preconceptions from the legitimate complaints, which is that the game is not a complete single player game. Although most of us know Wings of Liberty is the first part of a trilogy, I believe few of us were prepared for what this actually means.
You see, the campaign ends so abruptly, there isn't even a cliffhanger to get you psyched up for the next installment. When the last and severely short cinematic faded into black and the credits started rolling, it felt like a fluke. As if watching a movie from a scratched disc that suddenly skipped to the ending, leaving out the essential last minutes of dialogue. My gripe is not that Wings of Liberty does not complete the story, but rather that it doesn't even try to wrap up its own part of it. It was a tremendous disappointment, even for me, who bought the game mostly for the multiplayer aspects.
First of all, if you plan to buy Starcraft 2: Wings of Liberty for the multiplayer, you don't really need a reason. This is StarCraft, and it's better than ever.
However, if you plan to buy it purely for the single player experience, you need to ask yourself what's most important; the story or the gameplay. If you buy it for the former, you will be very disappointed. But if you buy it either purely for the gameplay experience or at least for both gameplay and story, you'll feel content even despite its somewhat amputated ending.
Name: Super Princess Peach
Genres: Platform / Action game
Mode: Single player
Media: 256-megabit DS card
Input methods: Buttons, D-pad, touchscreen, microphone
Released: February 2006 (US), March 2006 (AUS), May 2006 (EU)
Super Princess Peach was released only three months prior to New Super Mario Bros., which was to be the next "proper" installment in the Mario franchise on the Nintendo DS. Upon its release I quickly brushed it off as a cheap series spin- off, and although it was an official title, the videos and images I saw of its gameplay seemed too childish for my taste. That, and I was already waiting for NSMB, so it was even easier to brush it off as a children's version of a Mario game marketed towards girls. Was it a mistake to give it another chance three years later?
When you start the game you are greeted by the Nintendo logo pronounced by Peach's high-pithced voice, and it sets the tone of the game to lighthearted and fluffy. This is quickly confirmed by the start screen, displaying a map of the vibrant Vibe Island with Peach floating on a cloud underneat a large cutesy title. The worlds in Mario games have always been cartoony and often cutesy, but here it is taken a step further. The graphics instantly reminded me of Yoshi's Island without the crayon edges and with a warmer and brighter color palette. The sprites and environments are meticulously crafted, and the presentation oozes of the kind of quality you can expect from a proper Mario title. Visually it is a treat, and there is a stunning amount of variation in environments and enemies; everything from backdrops and platforms to coin boxes vary from area to area, and there are also variations in the environment from level to level in each of the eight respective areas. The game can look childish with all its smiling hills and clouds, strong and warm colours and cheery animations, but it does it with great attention to detail and style, and it fits the tone of the game perfectly.
Speaking of tones, the music in Super Princess Peach is pleasingly upbeat. And although it doesn't contain any of the good old Mario tunes, it manages to deliver a soundscape that fits the cheerful presentation very well. There are a few tunes that feel a bit uninspired, but that would be nitpicking. As for sound effects and voices, it's everything you would expect from a Mario game. From the plings to the stomps, it all sounds right.
The story is typical Mario fare with the usual twist to explain the unique quirks in the game; Bowser and his minions get their hands on a wand that can alter the moods of everyone in the vicinity of it, and they use this to cause panic in the castle and to abduct Mario, Luigi and a bunch of Toads to Vibe Island. Princess Peach herself is out on her afternoon walk, and returns to find the castle in a state of chaos. Since the heroes have now become the victims of Bowser's misdeeds, Peach volunteers to save the brothers and all the Toads from Vibe Island to restore order in the Mushroom Kingdom once again. Her old servant offers her a magic umbrella to protect her on her adventure: a functional sidekick that will prove essential for her success.
Super Princess Peach does what nearly all good Mario games do; it combines various elements from past games in the franchise and introduces new elements and gameplay twists to refresh the experience. Peach can jump on enemies, stomp them, whack them with her umbrella or attack them with one of her four available vibe powers. In many ways, SPP plays very much like a combination of Super Mario Bros. 2 and Yoshi's Island, but it's different enough to not be considered a copy of either one.
The aforementioned vibe powers come in four different flavours; Joy, Gloom, Rage and Calm. Joy will let Peach spin to create a small whirlwind, or fly upwards when holding the jump button; Gloom makes Peach cry waterfalls - literally - and makes her run faster than normal; Rage sees Peach engulfed in a huge flame that can dispatch of almost every kind of enemy, while pouting and walking at a slower pace; and finally Calm, which lets Peach recover hearts gradually unless interrupted by an attack. All of these powers are activated by icons on the bottom screen, and they drain vibe energy from the vibe bar visible in the top-left corner on the upper screen, at varying speeds. These powers are used to solve simple problems like burning wooden bridges so that you can access the areas underneath them, creating a whirlwind to dispatch of deep fog or to run over donut platforms that fall too quickly for normal movement. These puzzles are rarely challenging, but they're nevertheless amusing and help to create some diversity in the platforming.
Like SMB2 you have hearts that indicate your health, but loosing all of your hearts does not deduct a life - it only means you have to restart at the beginning of the level. In fact, lives are not present in Super Princess Peach, and this is logical as there is neither any checkpoints in any of the levels, rendering the need to punish the player by deducting lives meaningless. Falling in a pit, for example, will only deduct from your hearts, and you will restart at the beginning of that room or area in the level. You only ever have to restart the level if you loose all your hearts. It is a very forgiving system, and it reflects that the game is marketed towards children and meant to be accessible by everyone. I didn't really notice the lack of lives until I actually lost all my hearts after over an hour of play or more; only then did I look for the life icon. But it is also an interesting and bold move from a designer perspective; it means that you will actually never see a Game Over screen. The game is intent on keeping up its happy and cheerful tempo even if you should happen to fail.
This brings us to one of the shortcomings in the game, especially if you're an experienced platform player; Super Princess Peach is almost too easy. It is very generous with items to replenish your hearts and vibe meter, and by collecting coins you can increase both the amount of hearts and the vibe meter, reducing the challenge even further. Puzzles are relatively easy and only the last levels really pose any challenge; the rest is literally a walk in the park for any player who has any considerable skill in platform games. But the fascinating thing is that even if it is a bit on the easy side, it just doesn't get boring, because it constantly keeps impressing in visuals and situations. Every new level is a treat both to play and to see, and although not much challenging, the stream of new gameplay elements introduced all the time make it a joy to unlock the next level all the way to the last. And then, when you complete the last one, and the credits have rolled and The End is shown, you are treated to three bonus levels for each area, unlocked by revisiting the old levels and finding all the hidden items on each of them. Suddenly the difficulty increases a little, and it becomes very apparent that the level designers could have created a much more challenging game if that was the goal. When you play through these bonus levels, and you see the way enemies and gameplay elements are mixed in new and interesting ways, it's obvious that this is a game specifically and meticulously developed to be easy and yet enjoyable by everyone. It is almost as if Nintendo created it to experiment with some new internal ideas: less punishment, a return to more varied locations and an increased focus on fun rather than challenge - and suddenly, it sinks in that you've spent a good few hours playing a platform game that was easy but still very much enjoyable!
The game can also be extended even further if you want to complete all the unlockable mini games and jigsaw puzzles, hunt down every bit of musical score you can collect and then unlock the final power that will give you the option to have an infinite vibe meter, enabling you to play with the game mechanics with nothing to gain from it other than pure play. But this is not necessary for the game to be worth its price, especially now that you can probably buy it for a nice discount at your local games shop. The game is a testament to Nintendo's ability to create a solid and enjoyable platformer that actually feels fresh after all these years, and that even if the character it sells is a princess clad in a frilly pink dress with a smiling umbrella in her hand, even a grown-up man can enjoy it for what it is; a great platformer that can hold its own even against the core games in the franchise of which it is arguably a spin-off of.
+ Excellent presentation with vibrant graphics and animations
+ Solid soundtrack
+ Many different enemies, and variations of each depending on their moods
+ Enjoyable boss fights
+ Good replayability if you can accept it for what it is
- Could make better use of game mechanics for more elaborate puzzles
- Can be completed in only a few hours
All in all I really enjoyed Super Princess Peach. It felt almost wrong to like it so much when it didn't challenge my zomg awexome platforming skills, but it was a great experience nevertheless. I'd recommend it to anyone who's getting a bit bored of replaying Yoshi's Island yet another time, or for those of us who want a little vacation from playing games where we have to prove how awesome we are at every turn. The game is just that; a nifty and polished platforming vacation.
(PS: If you want to comment on any grammatical hickups, my style of writing or whatnot, I welcome that as well; this is the first video game review I've ever written, so I'm looking for any and all good tips!)