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Super Mario Maker is more fun than I initially thought it would be

Aug 18 // Chris Carter
Super Mario Maker starts in the best way possible -- a miniature creation tutorial featuring the first Super Mario Bros. After jumping across an impossible-to-make gap, you'll have the option to "finish the course," and bring Mario to the safety of the goal flag. Objects are located at the top, and it's very easy to use the stylus to create platforms, Question Mark Blocks, enemies, and hazards. Putting wings on enemies, piranha plants inside pipes, and items inside of blocks is also as easy as dragging it on top of said item. You can also tap or drag to clone the last-used item, which is useful for dropping tons of blocks. There's a lot of personality present, especially with the auto-tuned voice that notes item placement, cutely shouting out things like "block! block block! block block block block!" to the tune of the classic Mario theme. Maker even has its own tutorial character named "Mary O." who functions as a Power Line Expert of sorts, complete with a headset. I love little touches like this. The way amiibo support works is by adding characters to a roster with a GamePad tap, which will allow players to change into new cast members when touching a Mystery Mushroom. Each character has a special emote with the up d-pad button (for example, Pac-Man will raise a piece of fruit) -- most of the ones I've seen so far also have their own sound effects, and if you're hit, you'll transform back into Mario. Here's a full list of compatible amiibo.  Changing your "theme" (such as above or underground in the first Mario game, or even a new series entirely) is as easy as pressing a button, and only takes a few seconds. It's awesome seeing a stage change from the retro style to the "New" visuals instantly. It's also important to note that more tools only open up "over a series of days, as you continue to create in the game," and only 12 are available right away -- Nintendo notes that this is so you aren't overwhelmed but I don't really buy into it (hence my lingering issue). Expect thoughts on how this scenario plays out in the coming weeks. In terms of modes, you'll start off in the editing portion, but you can also access a challenge mode of sorts that limits your lives, and "Course World," which is a full online hub that allows you to play, star, download, and comment on levels. I love how Nintendo has this mode laid out, as you can clearly see the entire level by way of an icon in the hub menu, giving you an idea of whether or not the stage is up your alley before you even play it. You can also sort by rating and filter "up and coming" levels if you wish, and each map only takes roughly five seconds to load. There's tons of levels available right now for reviewers, so I'll be able to provide some thoughts on how the hub works at a later date. I don't want to spoil too many secrets, so expect our review in early September ahead of the September 11 launch of Super Mario Maker.
Super Mario Maker photo
First hands-on with the retail edition
Although I haven't been super excited for Super Mario Maker based on the initial pitch, we've slowly been drip-fed more and more information over the past month or so, and some of it looks intriguing. Now, I've had the chance to play the game myself, and left pretty satisfied outside of one lingering issue.

Rodea: The Sky Soldier might be a bumpy ride

Jun 25 // Kyle MacGregor
Rodea: The Sky Soldier was initially conceived as a Wii game, but it came too late in the day for a system nearing the end of its life cycle. It needed to be reworked as a Wii U and 3DS title. The thing is, the Wii is a special console, and Rodea was developed with its unique attributes in mind. Motion controls are a tad different than standard inputs, and the transition between the two seems to have left an indelible imprint on Rodea's design. Taking to the skies in this aerial action game doesn't come as second nature. With the press of a button, Rodea lifts into the air and hovers for a moment as you aim where you want him to go. He can't fly indefinitely, though, and will fall to his death unless you find another object for him to bounce off within an allotted time frame. It seems like the type of interface that would work seamlessly with the Wii's IR pointer, but on Wii U GamePad, I found myself flying off at odd angles, often coming frustratingly close to objectives that seemed just out of reach. Perhaps it's the sort of thing that comes with practice, but in a brief demo on the E3 show floor, I only got a glimpse at what sort of joys Rodea might have to offer.  Though it never felt intuitive, there were flashes when I managed to soar through the air with some semblance of precision. And in those fleeting moments I could really feel Yuji Naka's (Sonic Adventure, NiGHTS into Dreams) fingerprints all over the game, as I bounded from one floating isle to the next, collecting rings in this ethereal obstacle course. More than anything, my time with Rodea: The Sky Soldier made me oddly happy the Wii U version is coming tethered with a copy of the game on Wii. I'm not sure how much easier it will be to pilot on its original platform, but it feels like that's how it was intended to be experienced. Either that or flight isn't a skill easily mastered in a few mere minutes.
Rodea impressions  photo
Awkward aeronautics
My first flight with Rodea: The Sky Soldier wasn't a smooth one. But perhaps that's to be expected of a title that's seen such a turbulent development history. The project went dark shortly after its initial announcement in 2010, then underwent a change of platforms -- something that seems all too apparent after a few minutes with the final product.

Mario Tennis Wii U photo
Expectations exceeded
Its reveal came and went without much enthusiasm during Nintendo's lackluster E3 2015 Digital Event but, you know what, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is fun as hell. I played a match against a random attendee and won through...

Star Fox Zero might have the best use for Wii U's GamePad yet

Jun 16 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]294193:59106:0[/embed] Without wishing to sound too hyperbolic, this integration is such a creative use of the GamePad because the disconnect between the third- and first-person make it actually seem like you're hopping into a fighter jet -- even if just for a few seconds. Like, you need to look down to take care of some stuff, and then it's right back to flying about. Simply put, it's really great. However, there's an obvious learning curve, and it's not one that I was able to master in my 15 minutes with Star Fox Zero. Knowing which screen to look at, dealing with two different sets of inverted controls (left stick and gyroscope), shooting, all while avoiding enemy fire is no small task. There were several times when I'd brilliantly handle one small section only to completely bungle the next. Even when I thought I had the hang of it, I didn't. The level I played was on Corneria and it consisted of three phases. The first two were meant to acclimate you to the controls. It was probably possible to fail, but it didn't seem likely. By the time the boss revealed itself at phase three, the kid gloves came off. I'm not ashamed to admit that I didn't last long. I got caught up in looking at the GamePad too long when I should've spent more time navigating the Arwing. Shucks. I may have been disappointed in my failure, but I can't say I was disappointed with my experience. It was fantastic seeing and hearing from Peppy, Falco, and Slippy again. I did barrel roll after barrel roll -- not for survival, but for fun. It probably would've helped if I did them evasively. Platinum and Nintendo could've taken a simpler, scaled-down approach to this Star Fox, and everyone would've welcomed it with open arms. Rather, they're doing interesting and innovative things with the Wii U hardware, and that might be enough to push Star Fox Zero into another stratosphere. 
Star Fox preview photo
But there's a learning curve
Only a few hours ago, the E3 show floor opened up. As soon as it happened, Nintendo's booth was flooded, and the half-dozen or so Star Fox Zero stations were thick with intimidatingly long lines. People were willing to w...


Disney Infinity Star Wars photo
Check and check
If you're making a Star Wars game with pilotable ships, I'm going to want to zip around Hoth in a snowspeeder and tie knots around some AT-ATs. I'll also want to shoot down a bunch of TIE Fighters on my path to destroy the De...

Disney Infinity 3.0 expands with the Star Wars and Inside Out playsets

Jun 01 // Alessandro Fillari
For those who aren't familiar, or maybe just a bit confused about what Disney Infinity is, this title brings players into an open world and unified experience to craft unique and original playgrounds for Disney characters from the past and present. Much like the Skylanders series, characters are acquire by purchasing actual figurines that can be uploaded into the game via a world disc, a real world scanner. While you can create levels and unique scenarios and share them with others online, you can also dive into unique playsets centered around specific Disney films and television shows. In its third year now, Disney Infinity has seen a number of upgrades and additions. With last year's expansion introducing Marvel characters, they've also spent some time upgrading the gameplay and general design. In order to do this, they recruited help from independent developers such as Ninja Theory, Sumo Digital, and United Front Games where they worked on the key areas of combat, racing, and additional character support respectively. With general development handled by Avalanche Software (note: not the same Avalanche behind Just Cause), they've found the creation of Disney Infinity to be a rewarding and satisfying experience. "The two words that come to mind are 'humbling' and 'gratifying," said the GM of Avalanche Software John Blackburn while reflecting on his work on Disney Infinity. "I feel so fortunate to work with all these brands, and it's a dream come true in a lot of ways[...] I'm pretty happy that people have responded to it in the way that have, and have accepted it and are looking forward to the new versions right now. I want to make sure we're doing a good enough job that we're really trying to make high quality kids and family entertainment, because that's been more and more difficult as a business to do. So it's very gratifying to see that we're doing it right." With the 3.0 expansion, new environments and characters will be added to the core game, such as the recently announced Star Wars: Twilight of the Republic (based on the prequel trilogy), Rise Against the Empire (original trilogy), The Force Awakens, and also Pixar's Inside Out playsets. While Star Wars will be largely combat and vehicle focused experiences, Inside Out will experiment more with platforming in surreal environments. Much like the film, the gameplay centers around the emotional state of a young girl named Riley and her changing perception and feelings. Set sometime after the film, players take control of Riley's emotions Joy, Sadness, Disgust, Anger, and Fear, when she experiences a nightmare after falling asleep during a scary movie. The playset focuses on platforming gameplay through Riley's dreamscape, where environments and enemies take on a variety of different properties, such as warped gravity and the ground turning into hot lava. Each character has their own unique abilities and skills which will serve them throughout the adventure. After seeing the movie, I was itching for another trip into the bizarre and evocative world from Inside Out, and the Disney Infinity playset serves a great follow up to the film as it's basically the sequel to the film. Moreover, it fleshes out many of the settings and areas from the film, such as the dream productions studio where Riley's subconscious craft her dreams by way of old school film production. It's a very colorful and imaginative world, and it's likely the most unique playset Disney Infinity has had yet. The devs at Disney Interactive were very excited about what the new playsets can offer. "Every year a new fan is born," explained the VP of production John Vignocchi. "We're sitting here in the hallowed halls of Pixar, and everyone there will be someone who sees Toy Story for the first time, and we want to make sure that when they pick up Buzz Lightyear, or another favorite character, and when they play with them inside of Infinity, that he is just as cool as he was in the film." Even though I've only had some minor experience with Disney Infinity, I was quite surprised with the creativity found in these playsets. Perhaps this was coming off of my high after seeing Inside Out a month early, but I was very pleased with the translation from film to game. With the writers and directors from the film working with the devs, along with the same voice cast including Amy Poehler and Bill Hader, they wanted to ensure that it would be as faithful as possible. It's pretty crazy to see how much Disney Infinity has grown over the years. What was once a strange experiment trying to catch on to the Minecraft and Skylanders craze, has now turned into a title that's really come into its own. It's pretty impressive to see how much detail and content is packed in the title already, and with the new 3.0 expansion hitting this Fall, the Disney universe is about to get a bit bigger for fans to explore.
Disney Infinity photo
It's a small world after all
Who knew that Disney's strange and bizarre mishmash of characters into one large game would turn out to be such a big hit? I know, a Disney title with a bunch of Pixar, film, and legacy characters would've sold regardless, bu...

Splatoon photo
Splamiibo
Day one DLC is a tricky thing. If it's too good, people will howl that it should have been in the stand alone game at launch. If it sucks, then you can bet your sweet bippy that dogs will hunt. All of that goes triple for an...

The original Kickstarter game, High Strangeness, is set for release on May 6

Apr 16 // Alessandro Fillari
High Strangeness (Linux, Mac, PC, Wii U [previewed])Developer: Barnyard Intelligence GamesPublisher: Midnight CityRelease: May 6, 2015 "As the original amount was for $1500, it's been a passion project for us," said lead developer Ben Shostak. "We've been working on it all that time since, but eventually along the way, we got picked up by Midnight City and they were able to help us get it finished up and with the art assets and other resources. We had a successful Steam Greenlight, and now we're ready for release next month." Initially taking place in middle America, a mild-mannered teenager finds that his home has been invaded by creatures resembling shadows. Soon after, he's transported to a mysterious world connected by two parallel dimensions, and after coming into contact with an ancient artifact, he's able to transition between the dimensions, which resemble 8-bit and 16-bit interpretations of the new world he inhabits. Using gadgets and several artifacts he uncovers, he begins his quest to unravel the mystery behind the shadow creatures, while trying to find his way back home. Understandably, I was a bit confused by their labeling of High Strangeness as a 12-bit adventure game, but after playing the game, it became quite clear. The main character is essentially trapped within a videogame that's having difficulties trying to reconcile its place between the between the 8-bit and 16-bit eras of gaming. Hence, the 12-bit label. As the in-between, he's able to transition to different eras, while taking advantage of the unique visual styles, along with the physics and AI parameters of the respective eras. Similar to The Legend of Zelda: A Link To the Past or Secret of Mana, action takes place from an overhead view in real time. In addition to his graphical transition ability, the hero will have access to a wide range of abilities. Starting off with a flashlight, which doubles as a melee weapon, he'll gain new gadgets and abilities such as firecrackers, which can be thrown at enemies and used to destroy weak walls to find new areas. When our hero defeats foes, he'll acquire crystal eyes which can be used to spend on upgrades in the character menu. Similar to action-RPG titles, you'll be able to focus on particular traits and attributes, and build your hero out to your liking. While at first glance, it seems to be one of those titles trying a bit too hard to relive the classic era. But thankfully, the "meta-ness" of High Strangeness is much more than simple style. The transition between the bit worlds is totally by design, which will change up enemy A.I, puzzle solving, and exploration. Think Light and Dark worlds from A Link to the Past, but with videogames. For instance, 16-bit world features eight-way degree of movement, while the 8-bit world has only grid based movement. In some cases, enemies will appear more menacing and more difficult in 16-bit mode, but switching over to 8-bit mode will severely limit their attacks and movement. Moreover, certain clues and obstacles will only be present in the 8-bit areas. During the Easter Island level, I was able to see traps hidden in the ground in the 8-bit world, but for the 16-bit world, the extra graphical power allows the traps to be more well hidden. I know, it's so meta, right? And it totally works. I was kinda geeking out during my session, as it was a pretty neat nod to how self-aware it is the style and limitations of the era. It was cool seeing 16-bit versions of the common enemies, these clothed monsters with tentacles, turn into these somewhat harmless and neutered looking enemies in the 8-bit world. By the way, that friend that inspired the developers to put themselves out there on Kickstarter was Rich Vreeland, also known as Disasterpeace. Along with Dino Lionetti from Cheap Dinosaurs, Disasterpeace has also contributed some music to High Strangeness. The score is totally a love letter to the classic era, focusing heavy on chiptune arrangements that are pretty catchy, but also very exciting and ooze style. I spent a nice amount of time with High Strangeness, and I could tell I only scratched the surface of what it has in store for players. There are many dungeons and locations to explore, each with a 8-bit and 16-bit rendition, and there's even a section where you'll play as a talking cat for some reason. It sounds so ridiculous, I know it'll be really awesome to see unfold. I'm a bit of a sucker to have a game be so self-aware of its genre, and the medium itself, and High Strangeness is certainly shaping up to one of those titles that'll not be fun to play, but also to examine for the number of references and nods to the classic era. It's been a long time coming, and to finally see the original Kickstarter game project reach the finish line is pretty exciting. Granted, it's been about six years, but better now then never, right? They've made good on their commitment to the fans, and it's shaped up to be something quite special.
High Strangeness photo
A super-meta jaunt through through 12-bit gaming
Ever since the big Kickstarter boom of 2012, there's never been a short supply of developers looking to get their next title going through crowdfunding. From metroidvania action-RPG titles referencing the golden years of game...

Mekazoo has a cheeky rhyme for tricky gameplay

Mar 26 // Brett Makedonski
[embed]289556:57920:0[/embed] But, where experienced platformers will find the most challenge is within the way that each animal uses its unique ability. The frog, who starts the game off, has a stretched-out tongue that can latch onto far away floating objects. The wallaby, who comes along later, has a bounce that’s particularly strong. However, the rub lies within the fact that these special abilities are designed to activate upon releasing a face button – not simply pressing it. It’s enough to initially throw you off your rhythm, that is, until you eventually fall into the groove that Mekazoo lays down. Mekazoo always takes control over which two particular animals are used at any given time. There’s no freedom of choice there. That’s because, with so many different abilities across the many creatures, granting that option would weaken level design. By creating the levels around the specific animals, Good Mood Creators gets to challenge the player in whatever way it sees fit. If there was any doubt, my 30-minute demo erased any concerns that Mekazoo wouldn’t offer a challenge. Each level is packed with collectible currency, secret pick-ups, alternate paths, and hazards at every turn – and this is a game that revels in its twists and turns. Deaths came at a constant clip, but they were less frequent once I got a feel for the mechanics. That’s where that learning curve comes in; and once overcoming it, that’s where the immensely satisfying part takes over. Eventually, I wandered  across a “race the lava” section. Slavin informed me that this is where most people gave up. I could see why. It was a stiff test for having so little time to learn Mekazoo. Still, I was determined to best it. Maybe 15 minutes (and several deaths) later, I cleared it like it was no big thing. That’s how those sections tend to go – relentless challenge until you pass it with flying colors. Really, "flying colors" describes all facets of Mekazoo. At times, everything will seem an aesthetically-pleasing blur; other times, you'll try, try, try until that aforesaid suddenly easy success comes along. But, the latter is less frustrating than you'd think, simply because Mekazoo's world is an amazing place to be immersed in.
Mekazoo preview photo
Flying colors
“When in doubt, switch them out.” Sage-like advice, really. That’s what Mekazoo’s creative director Jarrett Slavin had to tell me to do when I showed obvious struggles playing his demo. I’m no st...

RIVE was my favorite twin-stick shooter at PAX East

Mar 17 // Rob Morrow
Once safely out of the asteroid belt and into the facility, RIVE began to look a lot more familiar. My spider-like vehicle scuttled across floors, tracking baddies with its 360-degree auto-cannon and laying waste to the swarms of fast-moving enemies that attempted to impede my progress. RIVE mixes up the intensely satisfying shooting elements with a healthy dose of action platforming as you make your way deeper into the facility. Jumping is controlled with the left trigger, which at first felt awkward but, according to Ginkel, was a necessary concession to accommodate the game's right stick-controlled aiming mechanics. After a few successful hops and double-jumps, the ground-based movement began to feel natural to me again, allowing me to track enemies mid-air and deliver a hail of bullets in full 360 degrees, creating a colorful light show of explosions intermixed with charred bits of enemy debris. As I blasted my way deeper into the facility I began to pick up consumable items. Only three were available in the preview build; two offensive and one pickup that would replenish health. EMP projectiles that could freeze enemies in place with an electromagnetic pulse and homing missiles were the two offensive types on offer. Out of the two, I would always go with the missiles -- stunning your enemies is nice, but turning them into scrap is nicer. Hacks also played a big role in the game, adding some interesting tactical opportunities if used inventively. You start off picking up one that will allow you to override security systems, unlocking doors that bar your path. The next one you find allows you to hack Lifebots, floating drones that will top off the health of whomever is in control of them at the time. One really handy use I found for the Lifebot was in one of the two boss battles in the preview. By taking control of it, I could stay below the boss pouring out the damage while my floating medic topped me off with health, mitigating any damage that I took in the process. Lastly, you'll discover a hack that will allow you to take control of the pesky Kamikaze bots encountered throughout the levels. Once in control of them, a zero-g field radiates out, creating a sphere you can hop into and use for a lift to reach previously inaccessible sections in the level. Wrapping up the demonstration, I joked with Ginkel about how radically different RIVE is from Two Tribes' previous games. He nodded in agreement and grinned proudly as we watched PAX attendees blast their way through the beautiful shooter displayed on the large monitor before us. It truly is a gorgeous title, but it's got the chops to back up the good looks in spades. If RIVE's any indication of the future direction of the development studio, I think we're all in for a treat. While the puzzle platformer Toki Tori 2 is a solid title in its own regard, I'm really happy that the studio went in this new action-oriented direction. RIVE just does so many things right you'd think its creators had been designing shooters all along. RIVE is tentatively scheduled for a Q1 2015 release on PC, PS4, Wii U, and Xbox One
RIVE preview photo
Family-friendly puzzle platformer this game is not
When I learned that Netherlands-based Two Tribes Studios (Toki Tori & Toki Tori 2) was bringing its snazzy metal-wrecking, robot-hacking, twin-stick shooter RIVE to PAX East this year, I jumped at the...

Affordable Space Adventures is the Wii U experience I imagined in 2012

Mar 09 // Darren Nakamura
Affordable Space Adventures puts players in the role of space tourists, in control of a Small Craft™, a ship woefully underequipped for the perils of interplanetary exploration. It starts with only a flashlight, but gains new components over the course of the game. Early on the fuel-burning engine activates, and the explorers can get moving. As new systems come into play, they are controlled on the GamePad, referred to in game as the "heads down display" (heh). Some systems are binary; they are either on or off. Most have variable levels of power, from zero (off) to five (max). Success hinges on managing which systems have power at which times. For instance, pushing the thrusters' power up to the higher levels can allow for a quick escape but will overheat the engine if left for too long. Further on, the explorers encounter armed drones to circumvent. Though they are dangerous, their sensors are limited. Some detect heat, some detect sound, some detect electrical activity, and the most robust detect a combination of the three. Each ship component produces some amount of each, so the key to getting past the sentries is figuring out which systems are essential and which can be temporarily powered down or shut off. [embed]288785:57661:0[/embed] At this point, Affordable Space Adventures becomes a sort of puzzle game. It starts simple: if a drone senses heat and/or sound but the ship just wants to descend, then the trick is to hover above the danger zone, kill the engines, then restart it after passing safely by. Climbing through a similar situation would require the electric engine, which has a different feel to it in addition to producing different detectable effects. Later on, things get more complicated. Some drones can sense both heat and electricity, so players have to come up with clever solutions for avoiding detection or destruction. One section had us turning off the decelerator and coasting through a drone's area of effect. Another had me crank up the antigravity to gain upward momentum, kill the engines, then restore them just in time for my pilot to navigate us to safety. The game can be controlled by a single person using the GamePad, and it works fine, though it can get a little hectic coordinating the systems management on the touch screen with the piloting on the big screen. Where Affordable Space Adventures really shines is in two- or three-player cooperative mode. With two players, the one with the GamePad controls the systems and the flashlight while the other controls piloting, scanning, and firing flares. Almost everything players can do is interconnected so communication between teammates is essential. For instance, while the pilot is the one who activates the scanner, the engineer is the one who aims it. Adding a third player splits the labor further, adding a science officer to the mix. I was only able to play with two during my time, but even that was a great experience. It simulates the action on a spaceship bridge, where each person has specific roles and success comes from coordination and communication between teammates. Other games have done this, but Affordable Space Adventures is probably the most accessible of its ilk, requiring fewer players and just a single console. As a single-player or a cooperative game, Affordable Space Adventures makes excellent use of the Wii U GamePad. Any who like asymmetric cooperative multiplayer would do well to check it out. When the team works well together it can overcome some tricky circumstances. When the team doesn't work quite so well and the ship explodes and everybody dies, well, that's funny too. Affordable Space Adventures should be available on the Wii U eShop on April 9. The final price has not yet been decided.
PAX East photo
Better late than never
When Nintendo first unveiled the Wii U, my mind raced with ideas for games that could be created with the two-screen interface. A lot of the cool stuff that the DS did could be transferred to the big screen. Better yet, title...

Soul Axiom is a cross between Journey and Tron

Mar 06 // Mike Cosimano
[embed]288643:57628:0[/embed] Soul AxiomDeveloper: Wales InteractivePublisher: Wales InteractiveRelease date: Q3/Q4 2015  Soul Axiom takes place inside Elysia, a social network-type system that allows users to upload their memories and experiences, creating a sort of virtual self. You play as one such agent, sans memories. It was hard to glean any sort of plot from a hands-off demo without sound, but there seems to be something quite sinister happening inside Elysia. Over the course of my demo, I spotted a shadowy figure dragging away a coffin, and a shark attacked the player character towards the end of my time with the game. Unlike Master Reboot, which had a psychological horror bent, Soul Axiom will be more like a thriller. The game will still have a few scares, but Soul Axiom is not designed for spooks. It seemed too ethereal for that, for one thing. The game’s story will be delivered environmentally, similar to the excellent Gone Home. As you learn about the character you’re playing as, you’ll also learn about other people who have used Elysia. According to Wales Interactive co-founder David ‘Dai’ Banner, the team wants to communicate the story without resorting to infodumps. "We’ve got a story to tell, and we want to tell it," Banner said. In order to better understand the story they’ve written, Wales Interactive looks to focus groups. But they aren’t trying to appeal to a wider audience, as is so often the case when a developer uses focus groups. Banner was very adamant that the team wasn’t looking to make a "realistic" game. Soul Axiom is the game they wanted to make, even with the changes that come from playtesting. "We don’t want [Soul Axiom] to be so polished that it loses all personality," Banner said. Instead, the team is asking their focus groups what they thought was happening in the story, tweaking things based on the responses. This mindset is the primary reason behind Soul Axiom’s Early Access release. Unlike most Early Access games, this isn’t an unfinished beta. You aren’t paying for the privilege of bug testing. Banner is okay with tweaking the puzzles, if that means players will reach the end of their story. "We want everybody to see the whole game," he said. The game’s puzzles revolve around powers the player gains access to, like a 'phase' ability that lets players bring objects in and out of existence. Although most of the puzzles I saw were fairly simple (the first level is a linear tutorial), there were a few clear examples of Portal-esque environmental puzzles. It’s hard to not see shades of The Talos Principle in the game’s Egyptian level, so if either of those games are your bag, this might be also your bag! Please come pick up your bag. Soul Axiom was being shown off at the Xbox lounge, but it will be released simultaneously on Xbox One, PS4, and Wii U once the Steam version has been fully playtested. The team is aiming for a six month release window, with their worst case scenario a Q4 2015 release.  
Soul Axiom Preview photo
This Ain't Axiom Nexus
Everything you could say about Soul Axiom feels reductive. It looks like Journey mixed with Tron, except when it looks like Tron mixed with Tron. It’s a puzzler that evokes The Ta...

Y2K is a surrealist fantasy told through the lens of a Murakami-loving hipster

Feb 26 // Brittany Vincent
[embed]288166:57516:0[/embed] Instead, I found myself annoyed and impatient. And uncomfortable. The music played on, instilling a sense of "everything's going to be okay, but at the same time it's totally not." Like going home when you've got a terrible report card in the mailbox, or when you receive a text message stating that you and your significant other "need to talk" but there's no context as to what kind of talk you're going to have. And then, as if to make matters worse in every way, your cell signal goes out.  I couldn't shake that uneasy feeling as the game progressed. Alex eventually arrived at the bus station to an empty town, with clear streets as far as the eye could see save for a pair of girls on bicycles. I stood in front of them hoping I could stop them, and one did stop to look at me, but continued on her way. Unfortunately, before then Alex had already immediately begun flapping his gums as I followed the floating objective text on-screen to "go home." I didn't have subtitles to keep my interest (I assume due to the early nature of the build I was using) so his needlessly verbose narration fell on deaf ears most of the time, especially when he started describing how he never left the house. There's a time and place for self-indulgent reflective dialogue, but fresh off the bus wasn't it.  At that point I realized I wasn't sure how I felt about the game, having been irritated nonstop by a constant flow of "look at how unique we're being!" design decisions and Alex's narration. I was thankful for the eventual dialogue boxes that popped up later on during exploration to keep me engaged while my eyes darted around elsewhere, though Alex's insistence on making droll comments about the world around him nearly pushed me to exit the game several times over. It wasn't until I finally exited Alex's house later on and ventured further into the game world that I truly marveled at what lay before me. I knew it would be the killer aesthetic -- not the burgeoning narrative surrounding the so-called "Death Cab" or the offbeat protagonists -- that would take me in the end. The lush greenery of the forest I ended up in while chasing a wayward cat with a Salvador Dalí mustache blew me away. The faux-spritery of not-quite 3D and not completely anti-aliased character models struck me as charming and nostalgic, but the empty streets and uninspired layout of Alex's home didn't do much to convince me of Y2K's potential beauty. Neither did the amateurish anime-styled portraits of each speaking character, who seemed like they belonged in a Ren'py visual novel rather than an ambitious role-playing game with a unique art style. It looks as though this may have changed in newer builds of the game, but I've not yet gotten my hands on one.  Once I got into the overworld proper, however, I drank in the sights. I ran through a golden field during sundown to chase after the cat who got away from me. I made mental comparisons to games before Y2K who perfected this look (El Shaddai: Ascension of the Metatron and Killer7 came to mind) and I began to enjoy myself a whole lot more when faced with whimsical locations on the map that still gave the impression I was alone in the world, but in a beautiful, far-off place. This feeling, of course, persisted when I made my way outside the limits of Alex's sleepy hometown and into some decidedly otherworldly places simply by following a silly little cat a la Toru Okada in Haruki Murakami's The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle. I won't spoil things here for those interested, but there's a weird world of surrealism waiting to open up to you in Y2K after the normality seems to wear off, and I know I want to see more.  A turn-based battle system steeped in combos and rhythmic button press blocks was a delightful surprise as well, calling forth visions of the better of the Japanese RPG pool. That's not a huge surprise as the team at Ackk Studios have stated time and time again that one of their goals with Y2K is to take from the best aspects of classic JRPG battle mechanics and leave the rest behind.  Predictably, Alex is an audiophile and throws LPs at enemies. Attacking and defending was a little more tiresome than your usual “press X to dodge” systems and takes some getting used to, but it was satisfying and suitably jarring when I took damage. There were hints that a deeper, more fulfilling system was at work, and one I’m interested to investigate further.  Now, as I write this I think back on the strange experience that was Ackk Studios' ambitious title and hope for the best when it's finally released. I must have sat through its opening non-sequitur about twenty times before I got into the game proper: "The needle of the record player has dropped...the sound that the world will hear will change the very nature of reality." Blah blah blah needle, record, blah blah pseudophilosophical musical analogy, fade to black. It's exactly what I hoped there wouldn't be any of in a game that bills itself as a "postmodern RPG," and right there it was as soon as I got started. It bled through every single pore of the game, from Alex's character design to the insistence on including LPs as weapons and the phrase "sick beats."  And yet, I'm intrigued. In many ways it may feel derivative and frustratingly devoted to keeping up appearances as wacky for the sake of being wacky, but I think there's something special at work here too. Something genuine. I'm sure I'll find it lurking beneath the panda gimmickry and silliness, and for that reason I want to see more...even if it's just to find out if the rest of the game plays like a love letter to Haruki Murakami. I'm hoping that it will. 
Y2K preview photo
Breaking records with every battle, literally
Y2K began with protagonist Alex Eggleston returning to his his hometown from college. I watched him gaze out of bus windows until the scene shifted to him sharing a seat with a man in a panda costume. This was jarring enough to give Alex reason to look completely shaken and offended, and as the jaunty soundtrack suggested, should have felt super quirky and weird. It didn't.

8 things right and 8 things wrong with Smash Bros. Wii U

Oct 27 // Bill Zoeker
[embed]283100:56127:0[/embed]
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Don't get mad! I like the game!
I recently got my hands on Super Smash Bros. For Nintendo Wii U, and holy Bowser babies, are there a lot of new and expanded features! In fact, there is so much new stuff that I could hardly cover it all, so instead I am sharing my boiled-down list of the 8 most interesting things that I think Nintendo has done well for Smash U, and the 8 things I think could use some work.

Watch Dogs: Bad Blood goes punk, features co-op play and new modes

Sep 15 // Alessandro Fillari
Watch Dogs: Bad Blood (PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 [previewed], PC, Xbox 360, Xbox One, Wii U)Developer: Ubisoft MontrealPublisher: UbisoftRelease Date: September 23, 2014 (Season Pass) / September 30, 2014 (Retail) Set a few months after the end of the main campaign, players take on the role of Raymond "T-Bone" Kenney, a fellow hacker who helped Aiden Pearce during his fight against Blume Corporation. As he tries to tie-up loose ends before leaving Chicago for good, T-Bone encounters an old acquaintance that needs his help -- not wanting to leave him hanging, he must once again take on the Blume Corporation, while trying to cover his tracks and get out of the game in one piece. First and foremost, anyone expecting a Blood Dragon style addition to the main game will be disappointed. Bad Blood serves as an epilogue to the main story of Watch Dogs, tying up loose ends and showing what became of the main characters after Aiden Pearce succeeded in getting his revenge. Don't expect a tongue-in-cheek and self-aware title here, this is still Watch Dogs. With that said, Bad Blood seems to have a lot more fun with the material, opting to go with more of a punk take on the computer hacker, rather than a brooding and oh so serious anti-hero. T-Bone is a really fun character to play as -- he'll offer witty banter and show sass to the other characters, all the while using bizarre gadgets and tricks to take down the competition. Basically, he's the exact opposite of Aiden. Speaking with Project Manager David Thériault and Senior Game Designer Aurélien Chiron, the developers at Ubisoft wanted to keep the core of the Watch Dogs experience the same, while at the same time adding a shift in tone and new gameplay tweaks. "It's great to come back and show something new for fans," said Thériault. "We feel it will bring a lot of freshness and newness to the franchise." Much like Aiden, T-Bone possesses the tools to hack into Chicago's computer network to manipulate the city's installations to his whim. He'll have to use these tricks, along with some heavy firepower and cunning to overcome the many enemies that are out to get him and his allies. Unlike the other hacker, T-Bone has got some unique tricks up his sleeve. The veteran hacker can bring his customized R/C car Eugene out into the field, which has a taser and access to the same hacking abilities. Eugene can enter smalls spaces and avoid the sights of guards to complete tasks too difficult by traditional means. Of course, since the game is still set in Chicago, many players will likely feel at home when starting Bad Blood. However, the developers hope to switch things up by adding in a few surprises. "While it is still set in Chicago, we added in a lot of new locations that the player hasn't seen in Watch Dogs," said Aurélien while discussing the new content. "In these new locations, we play with the space much more. In terms of tools, you can use Eugene, which allows you to sneak past enemies and in tight spaces to accomplish goals." In order to spice up the side-content, the developers opted to create a brand new series of side-missions called Street Sweep. After a certain point in the game's story, T-Bone will make contact with an ally in the Chicago Police Department who has a whole stack full of case files that need solving. In addition to the existing side content, these new missions allow T-Bone to level up, acquire currency to upgrade his gear and buy new costumes, and help clean the streets of Chicago to boost his reputation. Think Person of Interest, but with a main character that wields a giant wretch and an all-purpose smartphone as his weapons of choice. "We wanted to add more variety to the side-content, and we wanted to add more objectives to the types of missions and places, and with Street Sweep we now have endless missions available for players," said Aurélien while elaborating on the new Street Sweep missions. "The goal was to never have two missions that are the same, they are all generated but they are never the same. With the Street Sweep, players can enjoy the side-missions as much as they want." Moreover, the Street Sweep missions can also be played in Watch Dogs' brand new co-op mode. Much like the existing online mode, players can seamlessly enter or have another player join their game where you can take down gangs and rival hackers. The co-op play offers an interesting change of pace from the existing multiplayer mode. Instead of being constantly cautious of anyone entering your game, you can now have a buddy with you helping out. It makes you wonder why they didn't include something like this in the first place. With that said, and being totally honest, I didn't really see much difference between the Street Sweeps and regular side-missions. Especially since they're in mostly the same urban and outdoor environments in and around Chicago. The added story for the Street Sweep, with the female police detective and T-Bone brought some charm to the missions, but I found myself mostly doing the same shoot or hack X while avoiding everyone else missions. It felt repetitive, but the solid shooting mechanics and combined with the hacking gameplay still kept things entertaining. Granted this was still pretty early on in the game. So perhaps once you progress further, we'll hopefully see just how much different things can get -- I really do like the idea of a randomized mission system. But in any case, I rather enjoyed myself with Watch Dogs: Bad Blood. While it seems to be sticking very closely with the same formula from the main game, for better or worse, I found T-Bone to be much more of an interesting character to play as than Pearce. Perhaps it's because he's got a serious set of dreadlocks and a heavy melee weapon, which definitely sets himself apart from Aiden. I feel the change in tone, making it a little more fun and cool, can do a lot to set itself apart from the main campaign. T-Bone was a fun character to play as, and I'm looking forward to going back in seeing where his trek through Chicago will take him. Bad Blood will be available for Season Pass holders on September 23, a full week earlier before it will be available for all on September 30 -- with the release of the Wii U version coming sometime later.
Watch Dogs photo
Hack the planet....again
Say what you will about Ubisoft, but they've got a knack for trying something a little different for their DLC offerings. After the incredibly successful launch of Watch Dogs back in May, it seemed like they've been biding th...

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker shows off the pros and cons of the GamePad

Sep 05 // Brett Makedonski
Given some time with Captain Toad at PAX Prime, I wasn't exactly shocked to find that the game plays exactly how I'd figured. Self-contained levels that require the camera to be rotated for new viewpoints, a somewhat slow-moving but well-controlling character, and some puzzles that didn't hurt my brain but still weren't overly easy to solve. Playing the same build as Darren at E3, I learned what it was like to work my way through cube-like levels, ride a railcart, and square off against a dragon. What I first noticed about Captain Toad was the way that the developers have the opportunity to go above and beyond with the level design. It would be easy to mail in an effort where each level plays similarly to all of the others. Instead, there's a fast-paced stage that centers around shooting things while on a minecart, and another that involved using strategic cover to evade a dragon's attacks. Given that these were almost half of the levels I played, I have hope that they'll be equally as well-represented in the final game. Even the levels that were more static had some variation to them in the sense that many required either puzzle-solving skills or precise timing. However, my most striking observation dealt with the game's use of the Wii U's GamePad. Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker involves many situations in which you need to tap items on the GamePad's screen to move them. This is a way for Captain Toad to ascend ledges, open new pathways, or find some well-hidden treasure. At times, these acts can exemplify the potential that the GamePad has for use in Wii U titles. It adds a clever touch of character to the mix, asking the player to interact with the game in a way that might feel more personal. It can just feel so absolutely brilliant to impose your will across several objects in succession in a way that a standard control wouldn't allow. However, the immersion of the experience can be starkly shattered when you realize that you've been staring at your GamePad and not your television for a while now. It's easy to get caught up with your head down, neglecting the fact that there's a large high-definition screen in front of you, and opting to turn your Wii U into a handheld device instead. From what I've seen of Captain Toad, it won't walk this line and strike a balance between the two sensations. That's a shame because we're still waiting for developers to consistently integrate the GamePad harmoniously into gameplay without pushing the players to become dependent upon the smaller screen. Quibbles with the GamePad aside, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is shaping up to be an experience that fans of those sections in 3D World will enjoy. In predictable fashion, Nintendo declined to comment as to why exactly we're tracking treasure, opting for a canned "that'll be revealed later." To be honest, I don't really need a reason; just being given the opportunity to trek through Captain Toad's world is reason enough.
Captain Toad preview photo
For better and for worse
Anyone who has played Super Mario 3D World knows what to expect from Nintendo's upcoming Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker. That's because Captain Toad made an appearance periodically in his own levels throughout 3D World&n...

Mighty No. 9 feels great, but the core concepts take some getting used to

Sep 01 // Chris Carter
Mighty No. 9 (3DS, PC, PS3, PS4, PS Vita, Wii U, Xbox 360, Xbox One)Developer: Comcept, Inti Creates, Abstraction GamesPublisher: ComceptReleased: 2015MSRP: TBA ($15 based off Kickstarter) Let's get the concepts out of the way first. For the most part, Beck controls the same way Mega Man always has -- he can jump and shoot, and in lieu of the classic slide move, Beck has a dash that can be used in succession without any real restrictions. This allows him to boost forward, air dash, and "slide" underneath gaps. But the dash is much more complicated than that. In Mighty No. 9, you'll have to use it to "absorb" enemies. By firing at them and decreasing their health pool past a certain threshold, they become "destabilized." Beck can then dash through them to absorb their powers (extra damage, speed, life, and defense boosts), thus killing them in the process -- most enemies cannot be destroyed by your standard shot and must be dashed through. This mechanic is seemingly a core precept of the Mighty philosophy, as it is used constantly throughout the level and is paramount to success. It's also a double-edged sword. For one thing, I found it kind of annoying at first to have to dash through almost every enemy in my path to remove them -- I was constantly jamming on the dash button so often that I skipped some enemies entirely. But once you play it for a while, it becomes second nature. Skipping enemies is actually bad, because you will need their absorbed powers sporadically throughout the game. For instance, by absorbing a close-by enemy with a red power that strengthens my standard shot, I could then get through a subsequent area with a much easier time -- one that nearly requires you to fire through multiple enemies, which is only possible with said power-up. You can see this at 1:54 in the below video. [embed]280497:55531:0[/embed] Like Neo when he became aware of the Matrix for the first time, so too did I eventually pick up absorption and destabilization. I don't suspect it will be for everyone and I can see some changes happening before launch (perhaps a buff for the standard cannon), but I enjoyed the strategic element, and dashing around everywhere is a ton of fun. I partly enjoyed boosting about because the levels are designed very well, combining action, light puzzle elements, and secret areas and paths that really started to shine in Mega Man 5 and 6. The beta only provides us with one stage -- the Military base -- but it's enough to show us what the development collective has planned for us. While No. 9 isn't what I'd call extremely difficult, it did give this Mega Man veteran some pause throughout. It wasn't just something I could pick up and master immediately -- I had to learn the ins and outs of the dash system, and there were some very tricky portions littered about the stage, most of which involve one-hit spiky pits of death. The boss, Mighty No. 5, was one of the best parts. It was fun to just unload burst fire on him and occasionally dash to destabilize his lifebar, as it felt like your standard cannon counted more for something. His pattern is very predictable (like a classic Robot Master), but his ultimate move (which effectively closed off half the arena periodically) was interesting, and his overall design was memorable. Mighty No. 9 didn't blow me away as a Mega Man fan, but even at this early stage I'm impressed by the layers of technical gameplay it provides. I think it's shaping up to be a pretty promising platformer, and just like Azure Striker Gunvolt, it does enough differently to make its own mark on the genre, without simply cloning Capcom's methods at every step.
Mighty No. 9 preview photo
Check out my full video playthrough below
Mighty No. 9 is probably one of the most anticipated games of 2015. After a massive Kickstarter, creator Inafune and developers Comcept and Inti Creates have kicked off a long line of products to hype it up, including Mi...

Opening a treasure chest as Ganondorf felt wrong

Aug 30 // Jordan Devore
My favorite moment was opening a treasure chest as the long-running villain. He unceremoniously kicked it open and shoved his arm in while fanfare played. Perfect. Otherwise, slashing away at familiar The Legend of Zelda series foes -- and calling down lightning for further crowd control -- was good, albeit relatively mindless fun just as I had hoped. The mini-map would ping me to run off and hack away at some dudes, so I'd oblige, then move on to the next area. Sometimes, there'd be laser-shooting statues that needed to be bombed (or ignored). This went on until I ran into Volga, who had made his way dangerously low on the map and would have resulted in a "defeat" had he pushed much further. I whittled his health down just fine, dodging attacks without much difficulty until he morphed into a dragon and took away the majority of my hearts with a single fiery blast. …jerk. I may not have made it to the actual boss of the free-play stage I was on, much to my disappointment, but I was able to confirm that my anticipation of Hyrule Warriors is justified. The fact that it's out in Japan already is only making the wait for September 26 feel that much longer. This is Dynasty Warriors but with characters I can actually comprehend. At long last, I've found an Omega Force game I can get into.
Hyrule Warriors photo
Yet so, so right
During a Nintendo showcase event at PAX Prime, I wanted to say "screw it" and just play Hyrule Warriors for an hour (or more) but with only two demo stations available and lots of other nice games media types eager to ch...

I swam around as a snake and then I don't know what happened in Bayonetta 2

Aug 30 // Brett Makedonski
I played chapter five, titled "Cathedral of Cascades," which started off with me transforming into a snake and swimming to land. I was incredibly good at this part, probably because it was impossible to screw up. Being the rock solid reporter that I am, I inquired as to whether Bayonetta can turn into any other animals. Did you know Bayonetta can transform into a fucking panther? Maybe I would've if I played the original, but seriously -- a goddamn panther. Needless to say, the next couple minutes were blocked off for panther dashing. That line of people behind me? I didn't care so much about them; they probably got lots of panther time in the first game.  Once that novelty wore off, I continued with the demo and things got significantly more convoluted. Combat? Yeah, I had no idea what I was doing. I eventually fell into a rhythm with the dodge button, and felt semi-competent despite the fact that I probably wasn't. I managed to rack up gold statuses on a few sections. That euphoria vanished immediately when the Nintendo representative told me that there are two rankings above gold. So, it's kind of a really fancy C-plus. However, combat was the most intuitive thing in the world compared to the narrative. Cut scenes? They looked nice, but it might as well have been in another language for as little sense as it made to me. Nintendo gave me a whole list of things that I can't mention in this preview, but it need not worry because I don't have a clue what any of those words mean anyway. My massive heaps of ignorance aside, I had a good time with Bayonetta 2. Combat can be supremely satisfying when the pieces fall into place. The plot? Maybe it's good, I don't know. But, don't be concerned with all of that because you can transform into a sea snake and a panther. That's all that really matters. This wasn't a very good preview.
Bayonetta 2 preview photo
That snake part was crystal clear, though
Minor confession to make: I haven't played Bayonetta. Yeah, I hear it's good, but I just never got around to it. It happens. Heading into a quick hands-on session with Bayonetta 2, I figured my inexperience wouldn't matter much. Wow, was I ever wrong. Now a few hours removed from the demo, my head's still spinning from trying to discern exactly what the hell just happened.

Costume Quest 2 is still cute, trying to be more engaging

Aug 29 // Steven Hansen
[embed]280362:55487:0[/embed] I was starting from the beginning of the game, so the fights may ramp up in intensity, but I was able to make it through the first area on auto-pilot, just using the attack of whichever costume I felt like wearing. Still, I didn't mind the basic JRPG battles, either, as I was taking in the colorful world. Down in the starting bayou, I smacked alligators to retrieve pieces for a clown costume. You can zip around on what I'm pretty sure are Heelys, which someone recently told me still exist. One of the starting enemies had a digital clock in its chest and they were all set to 4:20 (you know, the weed number), though that's going to be changed to 2:30. 2:30. Tooth hurty. The main antagonist is a dentist. At the start of the game, a rip in time brings you to the dentist-ruled, terrifying, authoritarian future. He's collaborating with some evil witch. You're then rocketed back in time to stop him after a cyborg ninja crow teaches you how to fight. Also, there's a Thomas Jefferson costume. Its special move is the Declaration of Destruction. He throws it dramatically at enemies, who will put on reading glasses and look at it closely before it explodes. And Jefferson's out of battle ability, Diplomacy, is great, even though I never used it properly. I was only chastised, "This doesn't seem like the time for diplomacy," which amused me endlessly. You also duel a little, fiddle-playing boy in a devil costume using your goofy clown horn. Costume Quest 2 is just precious.
Preview photo
New costumes, from Thomas Jefferson to a pterodactyl
Costume Quest, like every Double Fine game, is charming. It's a fresh-feeling, low stakes take on the JRPG genre, more Earthbound than Final Fantasy. Though, as Chad put it in his review, it's "RPG Lite," accessible...

Kirby and the Rainbow Curse is almost too cute for words

Jun 12 // Darren Nakamura
The hands-on demo at E3 did not spend any time on the story behind Kirby and the Rainbow Curse, but presumably, the titular curse is the reason Kirby once again finds himself in ball form, stripped of his usual power to eat everything. Instead, I jumped straight into gameplay. Players have a limited bank of clay to create platforms with the stylus, and if Kirby touches one, he will follow the shape and direction of the drawn platform. The clay rainbow is a bit sticky, so Kirby can ride upside on it before launching off the end. I spent a bit of time (probably too much) just making him do loops, just for fun. What gives Rainbow Curse a bit of a challenge are smoky, colorless areas of a level that disallow any rainbow drawing inside. They do not harm Kirby in any way, so he can travel through them, but it requires adept use of his abilities to turn him into a projectile, or keen exploration to find another way to launch him using the environment. Used well, these could inject puzzle elements into what is otherwise more action-oriented. Speaking of the action, there are a few particularly satisfying sections that require the player to charge up Kirby's dash to get through, at which point he cascades through a sort of chain reaction, sending him bouncing around like a pinball. It had an almost Sonic-like feel to it, where speed and exploding clay are used as a reward for figuring out how to complete an objective. Taking the idea of a malleable substance like clay, Kirby has the ability to morph into other objects. The trailer showed him as a submarine, a rocket, and a tank, but I did not get to try any of those out first hand. If it is like Canvas Curse, Kirby gains those abilities by defeating particular enemies, but at this point it is not clear if that is the case. For the most part, we already knew what to expect from Kirby and the Rainbow Curse. Really, Nintendo could have done nothing but release the image of clay ball Kirby riding on a rainbow, and it would have been enough for fans. What little I played was as much of a delight as I had expected, and the clay aesthetic is particularly suited to the Kirby franchise.
Kirby Wii U photo
Claymation in games will never get old
Nearly ten years ago, Kirby: Canvas Curse graced our original Nintendo DS handhelds, showing us (once again) that Kirby games could be about things other than floating around, ingesting bugs, and vomiting stars. Canvas Curse ...

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker takes the core idea and runs with it

Jun 12 // Darren Nakamura
Most of the Captain Toad levels in Super Mario 3D World stuck to one general format. They stuck to a small, self-contained cube, they required the player to view the level from all angles in order to solve, and the goal was to get all of the stars on a level. While a lot of the levels in Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker stick to most of that, there are a few notable differences. Now, instead of just hunting stars, Captain Toad is looking for gems as well. To fully complete a level in Treasure Tracker, the player must collect all of the gems, then touch the star, but acquiring gems is optional for those who just want to get to the end. The other big difference is that the levels are expanded, both in size and in scope. Though Captain Toad still does his fair share of walking around slowly, he now engages in other activities as well. One level I played had him riding a mine cart and throwing turnips. Another shows him fending off a huge, fire-breathing dragon. The second level I got to try hands on was a haunted mansion. Touch control on the GamePad came into play, where certain chunks of the level could be moved by tapping on them. These pieces have doors on them that connect to other doors in the level, so the main part of the puzzle was figuring out how to arrange the movable parts in order to use the doors well. One particularly satisfying section has Captain Toad luring a pillar of goombas underneath a door, moving to it, and squashing them all in quick succession. Keeping with the standards set in Super Mario 3D World, Treasure Tracker is visually vibrant. Even now, a year and a half after the Wii U's launch, seeing Nintendo games in high definition is a treat. The format of Captain Toad lends itself to this end; with small, discrete levels, the variety in art direction can only benefit. So far, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is looking pretty good. Nintendo has announced that it will also be one of the first titles to use amiibo, but we do not know the particular functionality of it. Regardless, we can expect to track treasure with Captain Toad at the end of this year.
Captain Toad photo
But it still doesn't jump with it
Super Mario 3D World was fantastic, and one of the reasons was its incredible variety throughout. Captain Toad made his first playable appearance there, with his levels acting as a sort of palate cleanser between Mario's runn...

Turning yarn Yoshis into yarn balls in Yoshi's Woolly World

Jun 11 // Steven Hansen
[embed]276339:54384:0[/embed] I walked out a Sony appointment with not enough time (before my next appointment) to go back to the E3 press room, but enough time to play a game. "Is there anything here I want to play?" I wondered. Smash? Okay, Smash. I haven't held a GameCube controller in like five days. I need my fix. But everyone was playing Smash so I went and played Yarn Yoshi. Good decision. Yarn Yoshi is as delightful as it looks. The way yarn platforms give slightly under the weight of your jumps gives off such a peaceful fluidity, like a long string of yarn undulating in sin waves. Hitting a knitted basket to knock out a bunch of yarn ball eggs was cute. Accidentally tonguing my co-op partner and turning them into a red yarn ball egg with eyes was a double entendre laden mistake.  While it's a platformer, exploration and collection -- unraveling secret yarn paths and wrapping up platforms with yarn to gain access to further areas -- are a big part of Yarn Yoshi. You'll sometimes find yourself stuck, with no way to continue. In this case, you can start tossing yarn eggs around and try to uncover hidden items to help you continue. The level I played seemed rather accommodating and not too tough, though with the added flurry of a co-op partner also running around and doing things I did find myself dangerously low on hearts towards the end. It also might just be that they wanted something easy for public showing (the trailer had some more challenging seeming levels).  Yoshi's Yarn goes as all out with the yarn aesthetic as Tearaway did with papercraft. The result is cute as hell. Yoshi's little yarn feet turn into little wheels when he runs fast. I could die. Keep making games out of strange materials, Nintendo.
Hands-on: Yoshi's Yarn photo
As cute and good and nice as you expected
Yarn Yoshi is a pretty good name. Yoshi's Woolly World is an okay name. Yoshi's Yarn is a better name and what the game should've been called for the sake of alliteration and Yoshi's Story symmetry (a yarn is like a story!!!). I'm going to keep writing Yoshi's Woolly World as Yoshi's Yarn. Sorry.

Hands on with Splatoon, a very Nintendo competitive multiplayer shooter

Jun 11 // Darren Nakamura
Splatoon pits two teams of four players against one another, but rather than a competition for the most kills, the goal is to use a paint gun (think F.L.U.D.D. from Super Mario Sunshine) to cover the arena with as much of a particular color as possible. Naturally, the other team is trying to get its color on the floor and walls as well. From that simple setup, a few additions make things interesting. At will, combatants can morph from kid to squid, which removes the ability to apply color, but allows for paint regeneration and different movement options. When traversing through an area with one's own team's color, movement is faster, while moving through an enemy color slows a player down a considerable amount. If a player shoots an enemy team member enough, the target will explode, dropping a splat of the attacker's color over a good area. What results is a game that has no explicit class system, but allows players to more organically take on different roles. In order for respawning team members to get back into the fight more quickly, an unbroken chain of the team's color helps, so one player may choose to stay back and defend previously claimed territory. Conversely, those on offense may find it useful to sneak by and cut off the enemy team's reinforcements. The GamePad is used both for aiming control and as a minimap of the battlefield. Tapping on team member here will allow players to tactically jump to one another. It takes a bit of time to execute, so it probably cannot be used to escape a sticky situation, but it beats trudging through opposing color when the action is further ahead. I did have some trouble getting the hang of the controls. Rather than a straight dual-stick setup, aiming is done via the tilt sensor in the GamePad. The right stick does have camera control, but I found myself fighting with it to try to look where I wanted. Additionally, my years of console shooter conditioning hindered me every time I expected to jump with the bottom face button, only to have to take a few seconds to remember it is on top. I asked if the controls would be customizable, and the Nintendo representative showing Splatoon said that the E3 build was set, but that it is still in development and custom controls will probably make it in the final version. As a result of the tricky controls (and this is my excuse), our team lost pretty badly. One of the other tactical features touted in the promotional material is the use of upgraded weapons and items depending on paint coverage, but we did poorly enough that I did not get to see any of those. Still, Splatoon was a lot of fun, and surprisingly deep despite its simple premise. This is definitely one to watch for any who long for a good competitive shooter on the Wii U.
Splatoon photo
Spray some ink, turn into a squid, the usual
Two days ago, if you had told me that Nintendo was working on a competitive multiplayer third-person shooter, I would have thought you were crazy. Imagining Nintendo venturing into the territory of blood-spattered 360 no-scop...

Mario Maker will make a level designer out of you

Jun 11 // Dale North
It's incredibly easy to put a playable Mario stage together in Mario Maker. The Wii U pad's touchscreen lets you use the stylus to pick tiles to drag and drop into place on a gridded 2D playing field. Bricks can become staircases with a few taps, pipes can be resized by dragging, and moving platforms can even be programmed to move different directions, all through simple stylus taps. Enemies can be dragged into the scene just as easily. And when it's all done, simply set Mario's starting point, hit play, and begin running through your own creation. It all comes together so easily that you'll feel like a proper level designer in no time. But playing my first creation wasn't as fun as I thought it would be. There was no real challenge from my enemies or platform placements. It might as well have been a straight run forward. Going back in, I played with jump distances, making it so that only a running jump would make these gaps. I also hid enemies in the cracks where one might fall from a run. While creating these challenges, new ones sprung to mind. I thought about making it so that moving Koopa would fall at about the same time Mario would come across a certain point in a stage. I also liked the idea of somehow requiring the use of the springboard to make it to platforms. My second creation was certainly more interesting than the first, though I was still having more fun in the creation stage than in the play through. I love the idea of making something horribly difficult and then passing it along to a friend to have them try to complete it. I'm sure that's just one part of Nintendo's plan for Mario Maker. They're not prepared to share much more than we saw today. When we asked about social and sharing features, we were told that we'd have to wait for more details. They would at least say that more stages and props from other games are coming. This demo let us create and play in either classic NES Mario and New Super Mario Bros U modes, and the creations could easily be switched to be played in either mode. I'd love to see them get creative and add more sets from games like Super Mario Bros. 2 or even Super Mario Land.  But even as it was today, from what little I played, I could see me spending a lot of time creating stages in Mario Maker. I hope I get to share some of my stages with you soon. Details are light right now, but we know that Mario Maker will be coming to Wii U some time in 2015.
Mario Maker photo
That Mario Paint feel
Mario Maker is a drag-and-drop level creator, letting you use classic (and newer) Mario game tiles and props to create your own stages. I gave it a spin here at E3 to try to create the next great Mario stage. I found that while making your own stages is quite easy, making a truly fun one takes a bit more work.

Hyrule Warriors is more Warriors than Hyrule

Jun 11 // Dale North
In an E3 demo, I set out as Zelda, charging into the field with her sword and her lovely battle dress (she's so pretty!) against countless monsters. Zelda was easily able to cut through hoards of them with her fencing-like sword strikes. She's very fast, so much so that it took me a bit to get used to seeing the princess getting around as well as she was. I mowed through the crowds a bit until Impa came along to help thin things out. We found a treasure chest (Zelda fanfare music and all) that contained a bomb item that gave Zelda unlimited bomb tosses. These could be used to push back the mobs, but could also clear passageways filled with obstacles. Later, I picked up a power-up that had the bombs growing to several times their original size for about 15 seconds. They were really fun to throw into a crowd. Zelda worked her way to a central keep that she had to capture. The zone closed off, leaving Zelda a bit stranded, working to fend off a circle of baddies. Luckly, Link came in to help clear the keep out. Things were fine until a massive King Dodongo came crashing through the keep wall. Remember this boss from Ocarina of Time? This one has the same weakness: bombs. Tossing several into its mouth had him collapsing, leaving him open for more sword slashes. The demo wrapped up with Zelda using her finishing move, a glorious light arrow attack. Hyrule Warriors plays exactly like Dynasty Warriors. Really -- there's no difference at all. But it's enough for me that the details were held down by the Zelda side. Characters, enemies, settings, and even strategies came straight from Nintendo's camp, making for a more lighthearted hack-and-slash than I'm used to. I don't think there's a lot here that will surprise anyone, but there's more than enough here to make fans of either franchise pretty happy. Hyrule Warriors will release for Wii U on September 26th, 2014.
Hyrule Warriors  photo
But that's okay by me
You knew that upcoming Wii U title Hyrule Warriors would be a blend of Tecmo Koei's Dynasty Warriors and Nintendo's Legend of Zelda. But I'm here to tell you that the gameplay is much more like Dynasty Warriors than I thought it would be. Not that that's a bad thing. The Zelda side is like the yummy icing on the top.

The new Super Smash Bros. characters each bring a unique feel

Jun 11 // Darren Nakamura
The new characters that are being shown in the build at E3 are Wii Fit Trainer, Mega Man, Villager, Rosalina & Luma, Little Mac, and Greninja. Unfortunately, the recently announced Mii Fighters, Palutena, and Pac-Man were not available to play. Wii Fit Trainer is a little tough to get a handle on at first, but it seems even worse for her opponents. Due to the unusual positioning that results from her yoga-like maneuvers, her attacks sometimes hit in unexpected places. For instance, one has her kicking one leg out to one side, while simultaneously extending her arm in the opposite direction, resulting in a multidirectional attack that could catch less experienced players off guard. Otherwise, she is light and quick like Peach, but not as floaty. Mega Man was another character that took some getting used to, but for different reasons. The sheer breadth of his repertoire is a lot to take in, where most of his moves are taken from the special abilities gained by defeating other robot masters. He is fairly small compared to a lot of the other fighters, and somewhere in the middle as far as weight goes. Villager felt a bit heavier and slower than I was expecting. As a small, heavier character, she did not have quite the mobility that I prefer, excepting her up-special, which allows her to take to the sky a la Balloon Fight, floating much like Kirby or Jigglypuff do. Some of her attacks appeared to have a random component to them, where she would occasionally drop a bowling ball on other fighters, but often it would be something less imposing. Of all the newcomers on display at E3, Rosalina & Luma handily take the title for having the steepest learning curve. Since Rosalina and Luma are separate entities, they can move independently from one another, and over the course of the match, I did not intuitively grasp the exact mechanics behind it. Additionally, certain commands will have different results depending on whether Luma is near to or far from Rosalina. The duo certainly has a lot of potential to be devastating in combat, but it would have to be in the hands of an experienced player. In contrast, Little Mac has an almost nonexistent learning curve. He runs fast and hits hard, with few frills on top of that. His drawback is said to be his poor aerial ability, but that did not really affect me much. I was too busy dodging and weaving, then landing powerful punches to really notice. Even though I tend to favor the floatier characters, I think I may have found a new character to use as my main. In all, I had a blast in my time with Super Smash Bros. With the GameCube controller, it feels just like Smash should feel. Even after going through several matches to try out most of the new characters, I wished I could have kept on playing. This cannot release soon enough. http://www.destructoid.com//ul/276398-/Smash3-noscale.jpg
Super Smash Bros. photo
Dibs on Little Mac
Since the first game in the series, one of the most exciting aspects of the Super Smash Bros. series has been watching for the appearance of unexpected characters. Back then, it came in the form of unlockables, but it evolved...

Costume Quest 2 isn't for the hardcore, but it's for the hardcorn

Jun 02 // Brett Makedonski
This time around, the action's set to pick up almost immediately after the original's add-on Grubbins on Ice ended. While the timeline's a bit fuzzy at this point, one thing is evident, and it's that Reynold and Wren are eager to get back to what they love most - Trick or Treatin'. Beyond that, Rice was hesitant to reveal anything about the narrative, giving the frustratingly boilerplate "We're not talking about that yet." The demo took place in the game's first area, a bayou that segues into a French Quarter part of town. It was a sample size that was adequate to show off what it has to offer, and it was all so wonderfully Costume Quest. The bayou had a kid that wanted us to find pieces for a pterodactyl costume. The French Quarter was filled with bustling NPCs that were itching to assign sidequests as jazz music filled the air. Houses by the swamp had doorbells that were begging to be rang -- some occupied by adults that were dishing out candy, others by Grubbins looking to ambush our pint-sized protagonists. Upon being attacked, we got a look at how the combat system has been altered. While Double Fine's touting Costume Quest 2 as having a "deeper and juicier" battle system, don't expect that to translate to increased difficulty. One of the defining traits of Costume Quest that made it so beloved was its accessibility, and that hasn't changed -- it's just gotten tweaked a bit to make things more interesting. One of the biggest moves was lending itself toward making combat more action-oriented. Now, when attacked, a perfectly-timed button press will result in increased defense and a counter-attack. Likewise, when on the offensive, the original had prompts flash on-screen that needed to be executed. Costume Quest 2 utilizes a system reminiscent of Super Mario RPG where coordinating a button press to the exact moment a strike lands will result in extra damage. It's not the most revolutionary of upgrades, but it makes combat feel more involved than ever before. Of the many costumes that are sure to be on display in the full game (which is coming to PC, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS4, PS3, Wii U, Mac, and Linux), we were only shown three. Two of those were a clown that has some truly bizarre animations, and a superhero. The third was a humorous salute to the unplayable candy corn costume in the first game. This time, you can wear it into battle, but it does absolutely nothing, effectively reducing the team size from three to two. Rice commented that the nod is for players looking for an extra challenge, and those that complete the whole game with the corn costume in the party will unlock an Achievement called "Hardcorn Mode." Truth be told, that feat probably won't be all that difficult to achieve. Even though health doesn't automatically replenish after every fight in this installment, there are water fountains located around each map that fill your party's HP up. When I asked Rice if these would be a pain to get to between encounters, he didn't think so, but that he always wants to try to get one more fight in before retreating to a fountain. However, maybe the most welcomed modification of all has to do with the traversal of the locales. In the original, only the robot was able to zoom around thanks to the use of rollerblades, leading most to play with that costume equipped at all times. Now, rollerblades are always available by default, making getting around much more convenient. That's probably a good thing too, because according to Rice, the maps are going to be bigger and more involved than in Costume Quest. For all the changes that are going into Costume Quest 2, honestly, the biggest takeaway might be that it still feels so much like Costume Quest. That's a revelation that any fan of the original will be elated to hear. And, if you fall into that category, Costume Quest 2 has probably already won your heart and your sweet tooth.
Costume Quest 2 preview photo
Mo' candy, mo' problems
If there's one thing that the folks at Double Fine aren't known for, it's being pigeon-holed into making the same game. In fact, almost all of its titles are wildly different from one another. From the likes of Brüt...

Sonic Boom plays pretty much exactly as I expected

Jun 02 // Brett Makedonski
I attempted the quick, zoomy level first because I knew that it'd be the one that felt the most like the Sonic that I knew. Unfortunately, it was the roughest around the edges. Sonic Boom isn't necessarily equipped to deal with fast camera changes and dexterity-dependent platforming, making this mode nothing more than an exercise in frustration. There were several paths to take along the way, each one leading to more or less rings. Every route I took was nothing more than blind luck, as it felt as if the level was a blur. It seems that to succeed at these, it'll take a lot of repetition and memorizing, because skill didn't seem as if it were a factor. Luckily, things started to look up a bit when I took on one of the campaign levels. Sonic Boom's supposedly geared more toward exploration and combat than platforming, and it showed. A taste of the combat came first, as Sonic and Knuckles tried their hand at melee attacking a group of enemies. There's a combo system in place that assigns letter grades based on performance, but it looks to only be based on number of hits and not variation of moves. Also in play is some sort of collectible currency (apart from rings) that go toward what I expect will be an upgrade system, but the developers were unwilling to talk about it at the time. While the fighting didn't feel terrible, it wasn't great either. Because of the relatively simple nature of the enemies, it was still easy to succeed, but in a way where I never felt completely in control of the fray. I couldn't put my finger on the reason why, but it may have had something to do with the depth perception, possibly stemming from the camera angles. Truth be told, the camera would be the biggest complaint of the entire demo, as it served as the biggest hindrance. Switching between characters and using their abilities to explore offshoots of the areas for extra collectibles was a fun exercise that added a twinge of cerebrality to the mix. However, often times, actually jumping to the necessary platforms was mostly an estimation, as the camera didn't give a correct frame of reference as to how far was needed to go. Mitigating this effect a bit is the inclusion of the EnerBeam, which acts as a whip that can latch onto certain attachments. This helps take the guess work out of some maneuvers, and adds a level of forgiveness. When not engaged in combat or exploring, Sonic Boom likes to bridge the gap with puzzles. The ones I saw were rather elementary, mostly using two characters in conjunction. It all worked fine enough in singleplayer, but I suspect that a cooperative partner would enhance this sensation exponentially. For what it's worth, during these puzzles, I found myself more interested in staring at the screen on the Wii U's GamePad than the television in front of me. I don't know what that might indicate, but it happened. By the time I reached the boss fight, I had a feeling for what Sonic Boom had to offer. The dust-up with Eggman featured him in a giant suit and shooting rockets which either crashed into Sonic and/or Knuckles, or came to rest on the ground. The goal was to pick up the undetonated ones and use the EnerBeam to fling them back at the evil doctor. It wasn't the most original take on a boss fight, but it wasn't bad. Actually, that was my experience with Sonic Boom in a nutshell. It's doesn't look as if it'll break any new ground, it doesn't look like it'll be Sonic's chance to reclaim his long-vacated throne, but it doesn't look like it'll be lousy either. Anyone that's forgiving enough to look past some of the obvious shortcomings might find an enjoyable experience underneath. Just know that you'll have to take the bad with the good.
Sonic Boom preview photo
Not great, not terrible
[Update: Apparently, just this morning, Sega decided to subtitle both Sonic Boom for Wii U and the upcoming Sonic 3DS game. Sonic Boom on Wii U is now Sonic Boom: Rise of Lyric, and the 3DS title is S...

Mario Kart 8: What's old is new and what's new is old

Apr 30 // Steven Hansen
Mario Kart 8 (Wii U)Developer: NintendoPublisher: NintendoRelease Date: May 30, 2014 Then there are two new items. The Crazy Eight is 8's Lucky Seven, flitting all the items around your person. The Super Horn promises maybe the biggest Mario Kart shake up in a while, which is funny in and of itself. Using it blasts a radial sound wave in all directions that will shake up nearby drivers but also destroy shells and other things that would otherwise mess you up. Yes, that includes the blue shell, if your timing is right. It's supposedly a rare and infrequent item. I got it twice in my first race and then never again in my next seven. It might be possible to up that frequency, however, as Mario Kart 8 gives you Smash Bros. levels of parameter setting. You can choose green shells only or bananas only or red shells only. You can even change the frequency of powerful item drops and have a race filled with blue shells and lightning strikes. You can also restrict kart types. [embed]273929:53681:0[/embed] This customization extends to the new online Tournament Mode. You can create a tournament, give it a name and set the parameters: teams or no teams; tournament duration and frequency; controller restrictions (for example, Wii U gamepad only), and so on. Then, it doles out a lengthy code number you can give to friends to help them find it. You can also freely (without numbers) just join up into active tournaments. Another online addition is Mario Kart TV, which, miraculously, lets you upload (short) clips straight to YouTube (through your own YouTube account). Your last 12 races are automatically recorded and there's a mild editing suite to choose how you want to share your matches. It doesn't pull from straight gameplay, but records everything that happens in a match and then shows it off with tighter camera angles not too dissimilar from how the auto-race looks while you're waiting for other people to finish. You can choose which racers to focus on (by default, it just shows highlights of you), what events to focus on (items or drifting or big hits), and how long of a highlight reel to make. Full race recordings won't be able to go to YouTube, but can be uploaded to the Mario Kart 8 Miiverse. 30, 45, and 60 second clips can go directly to YouTube. While making new things out of the familiar, Mario Kart 8 also makes the familiar feel foreign. Courses stick to the underwater and gliding shtick from Mario Kart 7, with the addition of disorienting gravity sections that see you driving perpendicular to the ground. And this commitment holds up in the modernized versions of past stages, which have been, in large chunks, redesigned to accommodate these new gameplay modes. It's a bit uncanny to see stages once taken as muscle memory trip you up with these non-traditional racing bits. It's different and weird and loud, but it's probably the way to go when you can't count on the Mario Kart fans of the last 20 years to sustain the series. And committing to these sections fully also has them appear in shorter bursts and feel more cohesive than in Mario Kart 7, which sort of felt like, "okay, here's this long, tedious water bit." Plus there's a stage called Electrodome which, despite not (unfortunately) being related to Videodrome, gave me an interesting mental image for a Cronenberg Mario Kart. Mario Kart 8 might not be that, but it's obvious that Nintendo is totally comfortable with transitioning the series into something much more colorful and frenetic. Yes, it is Mario Kart, but it does feel a bit different. Maybe all that pretty bloom lighting is just messing with my eyesight.
Mario Kart 8 newness photo
What if you could counter the blue shell?
Mario Kart 8 has unveiled two "new" characters. They are Baby Rosalina and Pink Gold Peach. What the heck, right? You're probably rolling your eyes at the lack of surprise with Baby Rosalina (who's joining Baby Mario, Luigi, ...


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