Xenoblade Chronicles – Wii, 3DS

xenobladeFrom Monolith Soft, the team that brought us Xenogears and Xenosaga, we get Xenoblade Chronicles, yet one more story about human beings questioning the rights of gods and breaking free from the shackles of predestined fate. Generally, I like this idea. Xenogears is my favorite game of all time, and I put Xenosaga high on my list even if Episode I plays like a ten-season anime series that periodically gives you quizzes to make sure you’re paying attention. Still, the theme of rising up to challenge the will of God might ring a bit more inspiring if we weren’t constantly given characters with superhuman qualities who are powerful enough to be gods in their own right. Yes, I know this is a game and it has to be engaging and challenging without being impossible, but there’s still an element of fantasy in playing as characters who can shrug off a napalm shower by chugging a few bottles of Mr. Pibb and recover from mortal wounds with a good night’s sleep and have no lasting effects. As much as I want to identify with game protagonists, I know it’s because I have as many heroic qualities as a bald hedgehog with lymphoma. My personality isn’t quite forceful enough to let me confidently stroll into the Vatican with a buster sword and demand to “speak with the manager.”

Xenoblade Chronicles sets up a scenario in which two ancient gods fought a battle in an endless ocean and just sort of simultaneously zoned out long enough for entire species to evolve and develop civilizations on their bodies. The flesh and blood inhabitants of the Bionis are locked in an eternal struggle with the Mechon, the residents of the other titan, Mechonis. As such we set up an interesting and unique Man versus Machine scenario that has never been done before. Except in the Matrix, Terminator, Blade Runner, I Robot, the Paul Bunyan myth, the John Henry folk song and about six thousand other things over the last thousand years. In a Mechon attack early in the game, protagonist Shulk sees his will-they-won’t-they girlfriend, Fiora, murdered by a machine, setting the pace for what ends up a 70-hour string of cliches (Including, “The girl is at the fortress. Come and get her,” a villain with the courtesy to get himself killed right after the protagonist takes the high road by sparing his life, and a system of quests wherein everyone in the world only wants things that require combat with monsters to obtain). Shulk vows revenge, and fortunately discovers he’s the Chosen One who can control the legendary sword of the Bionis, the https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monad_(philosophy)”>Monado, because what Xeno game would be complete without a dense basis in graduate-level philosophy that will sail over the heads of nearly everyone who plays?

So other than the unique perspective of titanic bodily parasites, what does Xenoblade have to offer? At first, it doesn’t seem like much. The first two or three hours of gameplay give the impression that the writers intended the story to be verbal diarrhea of cliches, tropes, and characters with no apparent ability to engage in inner monologue, all acted out with the pacing of Speed Racer dialogue by voice actors who sound like refugees from a Monty Python sketch. I thought the game had topped itself when the characters stumbled across an ATV spewing black smoke like it was trying to provoke a Prius into a fistfight, and Shulk said, “Who would abandon a buggy in such good condition?” Fortunately, that served as more of a turning point than a sign of things to come. The dialogue slowed down, edited itself—mostly—for redundancy, and while the story still meandered lazily, following around its older brother’s and sister’s shadow, the recycled ideas from Xenogears and Xenosaga still kind of work.
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Combat suffers from the same standard RPG combat issues: long repetitive battles, a cast of seven playable characters of which you can only use three at a time, and such a painful awareness that most of the time we’re just going to use the basic attack that they’ve taken away the option and just make your characters attack if they’re not doing anything else. Plus the game throws junk at you like it’s in the middle of a fierce domestic dispute, so 99% of the items, weapons, and armor you receive have less of an impact on your stats than bringing an angry duck into battle to bite your enemies. At the beginning of the game, I thought it was amusing that even the level 1 grasshoppers lugged around 18th century style wooden treasure chests filled with junk, but by the end of the game I understood that anyone living in this universe is, by default, a chronic hoarder who would need several shipping crates to store there crap were it not for the miracle of hammerspace. There’s also a weird quirk I’ve noticed on the few good modern RPGs I’ve played wherein the emphasis is shifted to an action format, thereby sacrificing control of all but one player. Based on some of the character’s unique fighting styles, certain combinations of characters can’t be used because whichever one you aren’t controlling will stand around like an idiot doing whatever will most likely destroy themselves and everyone around them.
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But it isn’t terrible. Characters have a selection of skills that take focus over auto-attacking, and each one has a unique set, and with that comes strategy. Shulk is the only one regularly capable of attacking mechon. One characters has defensive stats and the ability to draw enemy attention, contrasting with another who has high HP, but stealth attacks and minor healing skills. Since you can only control a single character, battle strategies mostly rely on the characters you choose to use, and different monsters call for different combinations.

Suffering from another RPG trope, most characters remain relevant to the story just long enough to prove their worth and be handed a membership card into the Rag-tag Band of Adventurer’s Club. Afterwards, they fade into the background except to call out the occasional platitude of inspiration about teamwork and/or friendship during a particularly emotional cut scene. Xenoblade takes this one step farther, creating battle music out of the wall of sound emanating from characters slurring out battle cries and announcing their attacks like three marching bands placed back-to-back in the same parade. This leads to some amusing mispronunciations, such as Thunder Buddy, Aflack!, Jail Slash and my personal favorite, Electric Dustbuster.

riki_swagBut for all the tropes and sins it commits, one character steals the show. As soon as you get control of Heropon Riki, the bureaucratically appointed hero of the Nopon tribe, all the focus shifts onto this obese chinchilla with the appetite of a garbage disposal. It’s worth playing the game just for him.

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Lego Indiana Jones – PS2, PS3, Wii, XBox 360, NDS, PSP, PC

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I enjoy playing Lego games once in a while, but I could work with a metal detector, a team of bloodhounds, and ground-penetrating radar strong enough to take lewd photos of the earth’s core and I couldn’t find anything new to say about them. Indiana Jones would have trouble uncovering details that I’ve lost, and this review primarily focuses on him. Developer Traveler’s Tales found a formula that works. They recreate famous movie scenes with Legos. The player runs around collecting enough cash from dismantling the scenery to be dubbed “True something-or-other,” and throw in a fair dose of humor since they realize you can’t draw Picasso’s Guernica on a place mat with a box of Crayolas and expect art historians to publish articles about it for years to come. So for years they’ve been churning out the same products, a little bit stale, a little bit funny, but it’s something to do in the evening that hasn’t made me too sick yet. In that respect, the Lego series has much in common with McDonald’s.

Lego Indiana Jones: The Original Adventures attempts to send the player through poverty-stricken areas of India, Somalia and Texas for a sobering look at the economic crimes of the rich. Just kidding! It lets you play through Indiana Jones’ original adventures! Although I don’t know why they have to specify “original” adventures as, thank Kali, they never made any more than the three. I suppose they could be comparing it with the Young Indiana Jones Chronicles, but that pretty much faded into obscurity during the mid 90s, gone the way of Surge, Jncos, and those shoes with the lights that flashed every time you moved.

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To digress a bit, I’ve always wondered why, exactly, the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull failed badly enough that South Park accused George Lucas and Stephen Spielberg of raping Indy. It has pretty much the same formula as the other films. Indy’s on a search for a magical macguffin with some divine significance—yes, maybe with so many legitimate, respectable religions in the world, picking the gods of anal probes and hallucinating rednecks may have somewhat detracted from the air of importance—and there are bad guys to beat to the chase, slightly comical action scenes, and a girl to win over in a way that looks James Bond look as charming as the guy who waits until last call to pick up the women everyone else rejected over the night. But maybe it is about the air of importance. Most Americans will understand the Ark of the Covenant, even if they’re not Christian, and the Holy Grail has literally become synonymous with something you desperately want to find. Maybe we don’t really know what a Sankara stone is, but rescuing enslaved children makes sense. Plus as soon as you see the cult leader rip out that dude’s heart and hold it up high as it bursts into flames (…while blaspheming the name of one of those legitimate gods I mentioned earlier), I think we pretty much establish he’s the bad guy and we want to take him down. Same thing with Nazis. Indy hates Nazis. Jake and Elwood Blues hate Illinois Nazis. Pretty much any person with an ounce of decency hates Nazis, so you don’t have to explain anything to people. Soviets, on the other hand…not as evil in retrospect. At this point in Indy’s life, it makes more sense for him to be fighting arthritis. And the skull of Beldar Conehead doesn’t seem like something that matters whether or not it falls into the wrong hands. Also, we never got a movie about an aging James Bond reuniting with the mother of one of doubtless dozens of children he’s fathered along his swath of destruction through the Cold War.

But back to the game…you punch things. As usual, the real objective in the game is to collect enough money to unlock characters to help find all the hidden items that, quite honestly, I stop caring about once the movie plots end. To be fair, you can punch them or whip them. Either way, when the scenery explodes and all that cash falls out, it feels pretty good. Not to mention the explosion sound it makes pretty much sums up the force required to separate Lego bricks. Other Lego games give certain characters innate abilities that help them progress through levels. While to some extent this game does that as well, you also have the option of picking up tools, like shovels, wrenches, guns, or books, and using them to interact with the environment. Or to launch a rocket at a Nazi. The problem in this mechanic lies in the fact that the button to pick up these items is the same as the one to use innate abilities. And Willie Scott’s innate ability is screaming to shatter glass. Often during The Temple of Doom, I found I simply had to switch characters if I needed to grab something or else I’d have to listen to Willie shrieking like a 12-year-old girl at a Justing Bieber concert while she ran around looking for just the right spot to pick up the item.

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Boss fights, as usual for Lego games, are so lame I feel comfortable diagnosing the game with advanced stages of muscular dystrophy. Since Lego combat tends to be as threatening and authentic as a trip to Taco Bell, nearly every major villain in the game seems to have attended the Monty Python school of battle. So each fight plays out like any girl I asked out in high school; they run safely out of reach, leaving me nothing to interact with but the room around me. Since most of the game consists of finding pieces and building things to progress, boss fights don’t really change up game play. The only difference is you have some prick standing by to laugh at you when you screw up. So yeah, exactly like dating in high school.

But really, whatever. It’s a Lego game. If you like Indiana Jones and other Lego games, you’ll get pretty much the same experience here. It’s fun. It’s cute. There are also a number of Star Wars cameos hidden throughout the game, including Luke frozen upside down in a wampa cave in Nepal. Which is good. Like I said before, you don’t want to take yourself too seriously

Epic Mickey – Wii

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A gremlin serves as Mickey’s Navi. Gremlins spend the bulk of the game repairing busted machinery, which either indicates the Wasteland is so damaged that they can only repair things, or that Disney has no idea of what a gremlin does.

Mickey Mouse stands as one of the most recognizable icons of all time. Lately, the little black-faced rodent has been eclipsed by Mario, proving that Americans hate anything more complex than a plate of spaghetti and a stupid accent. Even so, Mickey has still won votes in every presidential elections since 1928. In 2008, he beat Santa Claus, Joe the Plumber, and Jesus, and with 11 votes nationwide, he clearly has twice as many supporters as Jill Stein. Perhaps that’s simply America’s attempt at saying they want a leader who’s animated, unlike so many half-dead politicians (and, you know…Donald Trump), but if Mickey has so much charisma that America would follow an animal who literally can’t feed himself or get out of bed without a team of at least 20 people (You know…like Donald Trump), then it’s a wonder that Disney holds the rights to such a famous piece of intellectual property and does nothing more with it than pass out cheap felt-and-plastic hats to kids who coat them with a gallon of saliva and drop them behind the couch as soon as they get home. Other than the short that ran before Frozen, I can’t remember a single Mickey movie or cartoon since The Prince and the Pauper in 1990, and his animated TV appearances reduce him to the role of an MC. However, Disney still allows him to come out of his retirement home every now and then to run around, wreaking havoc in the occasional video game, of all things. And nine times out of ten, as is the case with Mickey Mousecapade, Mickey Mania, Kingdom Hearts, and now Epic Mickey, the theme of that game is remembering all the classic characters Disney has used up and left by the wayside like a futon in front of a frat house.

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A home for forgotten characters, unless Disney really wants to use one that people remember.

Kingdom Hearts, turned the lovable trickster scamp into a Norse God, a mighty warrior-king, vanquishing enemies with a legendary sword, clad in his armor of…bright red hot pants. (Because nothing says, “Where dreams come true,” like a story about hearts and souls being torn from a person’s spirit.) Epic Mickey follows that disturbingly dark tone, sending the titular hero into The Wasteland, a gloomy, twisted model of Disney’s theme park built by Yen Sid (Yes…the sorcerer’s name is officially Yen Sid. Because nothing says “Magic Kingdom” like following the naming conventions of the Satanic Church.) to house all of the characters lost or forgotten over the years,

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Poor Goldfinger…he just wanted to be friends with her.

So short version, Mickey spills a jar of paint thinner on the model, which unleashes the Shadow Blot monster. We’re supposed to view this symbolically as Mickey eclipsing all the other characters and literally as the sin he must atone for. However, I can only imagine Yen Sid was planning some Old Testament style rampage, keeping that thing right next to the Wasteland. Mickey gets sucked into the model and absorbs some of the Blot’s aspects, which apparently means he gets a magical paintbrush that shoots out both paint and thinner and lets him hose down the environment like a porn star. Disney apparently decided that Mickey was wasting his potential to be a dick to people, and thought he could use a moral choice at the very least. You have the option to solve most puzzles by either obliterating part of the landscape with thinner or by repairing it with paint. Same option for enemies. You can convert them by slathering them in paint, at which point they swarm the unconverted and beat them with copies of The Watchtower until Mickey can’t get a clear shot even if the Wii Mote didn’t interpret cross hairs over the enemy as the desire to make Mickey ejaculate paint all over his shoes. Or you could straight-up murder them and get the health items and paint/thinner refills they drop. The only difficult thing about that decision is whether or not you want to see Mickey Mouse acting like Dexter. But that’s not to say the game is simplistic. You get to make a whole bunch of moral choices, like whether or not to find the scattered limbs of your animatronic friends and put them back together. Or the moral choice to help or deny the human pirate in his quest to woo the cow of his dreams. Congratulations on the bestiality quest, Disney. (Although it isn’t the first time you’ve swung that way…)

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The Beast’s orgasm face.

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Now you don’t have to walk under such a bland scenery element.

Still, the bulk of your time will be spent spraying your various goos all over the landscape, trying to find the occasional interactive spot. Other than that, any potentially clever gameplay that let’s the player express themselves artistically is pretty much just a way to spend the bulk of the 10-hour game wasting time changing colors from bright to dark. And even though the paintbrush does amount to nothing more than a glorified paintball gun, the enemies seem like a formality more than anything else, as they appear only occasionally and fight back with all the vigor of a severely depressed lemming. The game play isn’t as inspired as it could be, but it certainly doesn’t suck…at least not until the final stretch, when it shifts from “exploring the wasteland and taking on quests” to “avoiding holes like you’re jumping over a gonorrhea clinic.” My old nemesis. Designers who completely missed the point of Mario. These people think, “I like coffee! I’ll boil it down until it’s pure, black sludge, and then it will be awesome!” These are the people who read Harry Potter and then write their own 1000-page novel on quidditch.

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Mickey pulling what I call “Judge Doom’s Dip” on a monster that just wanted to be his friend.

It’s not a terrible game, even if it doesn’t know where to end. If it does a saving grace, it’s that it’s actually pretty interesting to view Disney through a darker lens (although maybe not literally. Walking out onto dark sections of floor is more dangerous than Russian roulette.). And while a modicum of interpretation can usually reveal some dark, unintended message behind kids’ stories, Disney actually thought this out, decided “We want to show the misery our beloved mascot inflicted on all these characters by eclipsing them with his fame,” and then proceeded to buy the rights to Oswald the Rabbit, Walt’s very first character, for the express purpose of having him rule over the Wasteland, harboring a resentment toward the mouse. Because nothing says, “The Happiest Place on Earth” like a 90-year grudge held by a cartoon rabbit.

The Monkey King: The Legend Begins – Wii

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The publisher’s choice of box art, traditionally styled depiction, yet dull and unrepresentative of gameplay…

“Five dollars? Eh. Why not?” What better way is there to sum up the national epic for over a billion people, a brilliant, comedic satire mixed with a deep and insightful meditation on Buddhism and other traditional beliefs of China? An afternoon of boredom led me to explore a skeezy pawn shop, where I found “The Monkey King: The Legend Begins,” and figured “Why not try to overcome malaise by seeing what they did to this timeless myth?”

To be fair, a six-hundred year old book loved by the planet’s most populous nation is bound to more pointless adaptations than the entire Marvel and DC universes combined, and by the law of averages, some of them are bound to leave a taste in your mouth like coffee filtered through an old pair of Hanes briefs. So really, if I tried to protest every bad or unfaithful adaptation of Journey to the West, I’d be left with zero free time, a bill for cardboard sign making that rivals my mortgage, and an unreasonable hatred of Dragonball. So why not look at the game on its own merits?

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…versus the alternate art, which is accurate, but more visually assaulting than Where’s Waldo hyped up on Red Bull.

Immediately upon booting up the game, I noticed that the d-pad wouldn’t let me select menu options and the select button was way at the bottom of the Wiimote. Don’t laugh. I’ve never actually encountered a Wii game that wanted me to hold the controller sideways.

Gameplay reminds me of old arcade shooters, like Galaga or Gradius—because when I think of an epic meditation on spirituality and enlightenment, I think “Space Invaders.” The legendary Sun Wukong (or if you so choose, the unique and pointless Mei-mei) flies through China on his cloud, spinning the magical staff that, in the book, can grow or shrink to any size the monkey king wants, but which in the game shoots out a glowing orb. Because you can’t have a space shooter without lasers, right? Even if it isn’t set in space. And depicts events that occurred in the 8th century.

Honestly, there’s not too much I can say about this game. It’s a traditional arcade style. It’s fun, I guess, in the way that Dairy Queen is fun—you like it every time, but there’s never anything new about it, you really wouldn’t want to go there all the time, and whenever I go it plays a bad satellite radio station of all the songs from the 1950s that were so bad, the entire decade tried to set them on fire and bury the ashes so new music would grow, but it just festered in the ground until it sprouted something with the maddening powers of Cthulu. Er, well, you get the point. The music in the game is a little grating.

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Tilt, and the whole world tilts with you.

The one unique feature involves the system’s motion controls. If you tilt the controller in the direction you’re flying, you start careening through the level like a deer on collision course for a Volkswagen Beetle. If you tilt the other way, you slow down and become a much easier target for the dozens of enemies trying to dye your clothing with their viscera. An interesting idea, even if it does display a fundamental misunderstanding of gravity, as though the core of the earth were swinging back and forth from Los Angeles to Saudi Arabia. Unfortunately, it’s a little too tempting to exploit. Every time you die, your next life comes back, blinking invincibly (as trauma patients often do when leaving the ICU). During this time, you can launch into turbo mode and skip through 25% of the level. Sometimes, if you position yourself at the right spot, you can do this even when not invincible and hit the boss in moments.

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…And a boss fight. There. You’ve seen pretty much everything.

The game is short, but still feels padded. You work through five stages, then a boss rush stage that calls itself “hell,” but hands out power ups like Halloween candy. And then you fly through all five stages again, literally backwards, starting with the bosses and then heading back toward the beginning.

Also, I know there’s a lot of violence in the book, and I know I read an abridged translation, but I don’t seem to recall pigs with rocket launchers in Journey to the West.

Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire – Wii

Dragon_Blade_-_Wrath_of_Fire_CoverartI love Fantasy narrators. Can you imagine if everyone talked like that?

In ages long past, a great hunger drove the mighty warrior to seek out the legendary meat lovers pizza, which came to him in a vision.  He quested long to come to the sacred Hut of Pizza, whereupon he requested his meal from the wise sage who took him in from the cold and seated him in the warm light at yon table that, lo, was beside the TV showing Sportscenter.  But there he sat, long forgotten by the world, and the hunger devoured him from within.  Lost to the temple monks, none arrived with the Tray of Serving, nor did any ask if he wanted his flagon of Mountain Dew restored to its former glory.  Now a wrathful shell of his former self, the mighty warrior must take up arms and battle his way into the great kitchens to reach the office beyond, where he shall face the Lord Manager of the Hut of Pizza, lest he never leave the realm.

Thus begins Dragon Blade: Wrath of Fire.  An uninspired little bundle of tropes, clichés, and trite I picked up in a Game Stop for 80 cents.  When I thought, “That price is nothing to shake a stick at!” I should have considered that this was a Wii game, played entirely via shaking stick method, and not very well at that.

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She got as far as “fiancee” before I started measuring her for a coffin.

Dragon Blade opens with a story pieced together with the refused shat out and flushed away by other fantasy clichés.  The young hero has a dream of being a chosen one, then gets a spiritual companion who tells him to go out and collect pieces of something.  Then someone razes his village to the ground because no fantasy world would be complete without an all-powerful organization that harbors grudges against idyllic backwater towns.  Either that or these people have a primitive understanding of motivation.  “Happy New Years everyone! In order to help you finish that novel, start that diet, and finally get around to that yard work you’ve been putting off, I’ve burned your house to the ground! Go get ‘em, tiger!”  Then after the hero’s girlfriend dies in a scene so bad, Anita Sarkeesian felt it like Obi-Wan felt the destruction of Alderaan, we begin an adventure full of hacking and slashing down a linear corridor!

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Despite not being an actual blade, they at least went so far as to make it dragon-like.

Well-crafted names can make or break a fantasy story.  Unfortunately, names are almost required to sound like a toddler vomited up a bowl of Alpha Bits along with a few Scrabble tiles they swallowed, but a good writer can make names sound natural (Samwise, Eddard, Laurana), exotic (Daenerys, Chewbacca), or meaningful (Gandalf, Han Solo).  A bad writer can make names that sound like something you pulled out of a garden or read off a prescription bottle.  Dragon Blade falls into the latter category with names like Vormanax, Norgiloth and—our hero—Dal.  The first major boss battle is a dragon named Jagira, which would have only been an acceptable name if they were writing Thunder Cat fan fiction.  One can only assume the half-assed lazy attempt at scribbling out an opening paragraph and relying on an assumption that fantasy readers won’t care if it sounded as awful as a banjo in a wood chipper.  I mean, I know that game developers don’t really care much about story, but could they have at least scraped together a few coins and pulled in some starving, wanna-be screenwriter and….holy crap the story was written by Richard Knaak!

Seriously? They hired one of the better Dragonlance authors, the man who gave us The Legend of Huma and Kaz the Minotaur, and he wrote out this shit? That’s gotta be a mistake on Wikipedia’s part.  Although, the game clearly isn’t about story.  After the opening cinematic, the game limits itself to a few lines of dialogue before boss battles, sort of a pre-battle, fantasy smack-talk.  The real focus is on the hack-and-slash action and well-crafted, challenging boss fights.

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Props for interesting dragon design. Then immediate revocation of said props because I never got far enough to see more than one.

So that’s top-notch, right? I can say this strongly and confidently about the action in this game: meh. Just meh. It’s not the worse thing in the world, and I suppose there’s currently a large following for games so difficult you measure progress in Dragonball Z minutes. But there’s a difference between games that are crafted to be challenging and games that fuck with the controls to prevent success. Once more, this game is in the latter category.  I once wanted to find a Wii game that accurately allowed me to simulate sword fighting; this is not that game. Dal swings his sword with such flourish that each attack animation represents an excellent time to go make a sandwich, use the restroom, or go clean the basement. With controls so slow and unresponsive, the best I could do was initiate attacks while the enemies were still charging at me and hope that they would be kind enough to impale themselves on my sword. The motion controls carefully sense whether you’re swinging the Wiimote up, down, left, right, or stabbing forward, and translate them all into a sort of side-slash, incapable of hitting anything below Dal’s waist or at eye level. This gets rather annoying while chipping away at bosses.  The fights with the dragons seem to have received the majority of the developers’ attention, trying to create impressive and fun battles.  But in an effort to make the fights last longer, their defence is so high that you might as well be whittling down their scales with a safety pin.

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I love this game this much!

Ultimately, the difficulty turned me off. Beyond that, I suppose the game wasn’t terrible. It was simplistic, but that’s okay at times. However, I find the blurbs on the box that advertise “unique two-handed combat” a bit disingenuous when the game brings absolutely nothing new to the table.  It’s like finding a loaf of bread at the store that’s spelled out “fresh” with mould spores.

Ju-on: Haunted House Simulator – Wii

Taking the week off, everyone! Here’s a review by Anne, the only person I know who has ever told me I’m optimistic. Enjoy!

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Let me start off by saying I HATE THIS GAME! I spent multiple curse filled, blood pressure raising, hours playing this game and even the memories of it make me want to toss my Wii-mote off a tall building. There, with that out of the way I can look at this game a little more objectively but still, you know what you’re in for.

Ju-on: The Haunted House Simulator is, as so many people before me have stated, more of an experience than a real game. It plays in the style of old point and click adventures to a certain extent in that you use the Wii-mote as a flashlight and as a means of telling the lucky character of any given level where to go. This also allows you to interact with a limited number of pre-set objects that either progress the story or cause a jump-scare to occur. I say limited because there are a certain number of paper scraps one must collect in each level and they tend to be hidden in drawers or in mailboxes but it is sometimes difficult to figure out what can be interacted with and what is just a static background piece. The best example I can give is in the security guard level there is a section where you must flush all of the urinals in the men’s bathroom in order to set off the next sequence but prior to this none of the bathrooms have allowed such an option, so the player must go by trial and error to discover what will make the story progress. In addition, if you do not collect all of the pieces in the level you will find yourself replaying as the only way to unlock the final level is through having all of the pages from all of the previous levels completed.

I understand that some people find children creepy...but did he have to drop his pants?

I understand that some people find children creepy…but did he have to drop his pants?

With all of that nitty-gritty detail out of the way let’s talk game play. I would like to start off with one not to subtle hint: there is no run button. Each character walks down their given corridors like they are strolling through a museum rather than being chased for their lives by a vindictive ghost. Personally, if I were in their shoes I would have noped the fuck out of there way before things got as bad as they do and to hell with my dog, my job, or my ‘family’ (I think that’s what they’re indicating with that picture that shows up in each level and the little bit of commentary in the last one?). Picture this if you will: you are walking your dog when it suddenly gets away from you and runs into a darkened warehouse. In the very first room that you enter you hear it barking and attempt to open a set of doors only to be grabbed by something behind the door and shaken. Would you calmly start browsing around for batteries, keys, and hidden pages? I personally would be well on my way to another zip code and hoping the dog was smarter than it looked.

Oh yeah, I'll tell you something I think you'll understand...

Oh yeah, I’ll tell you something I think you’ll understand…

Additionally, and I know this is picking at small details but what is with the trend of having video game protagonists get horse shoes nailed to their feet before any game that involves any level of stealth. This game’s horse shoe sound effects are so bad that there were several times that I missed the beginning of a scare because I couldn’t hear it over my own character’s walking. Again, am I the only one who would be tip-toeing as quietly as possible if I were being chased or even taking off my shoes if they insisted on making that much noise? Also, where does one find a horse-shoer for humans? Is it a niche market? Is there a discount since there are only two feet to shoe or is it extra since you probably have to anaesthetize them so they don’t pass out when you nail the shoe on?

Finally, the motion sensor aspect of this game as a way to simulate a flashlight is actually a really innovative and interesting idea. Newer horror games have run with this theme with the most notable one in recent memory being Outlast. The problem with this is that the Wii-mote sensor in this particular game is AWFUL. I thought I had played bad Wii games before but I was wrong. When my character wasn’t determinedly staring at the ceiling like a paranoid pest control worker he or she would make 180-degree spins to go in the opposite direction of where I needed to go. This wouldn’t have been such a problem except that every level is for all intents and purposes timed due to the shortest lasting batteries that have ever been my honor to curse about. This means that half the time a ‘scary’ nose would occur and I wouldn’t even be looking in the right direction for the scare.

Because nothing horrifies me more than a comically large hair clog in a bathroom drain.

Because nothing horrifies me more than a comically large hair clog in a bathroom drain.

Which brings me to related point. If you run out of batteries or fail a quick time event, which you will because of the aforementioned control issues, you have to start the level all over again from the very beginning. This wouldn’t be such an issue except every last cut scene must be triggered in order in order to progress and the jump scares don’t change. After the first, or heaven forbid eighth time, you go through a level the preset scares simply feel like they’re taking up valuable time and are a chore to slog through. I’ll admit that every once in a great long while you’ll find an optional jump scare that you may have missed along the way but it is extremely rare and yet these soon to be yawn worthy moments still lead to the ‘scared’ and ‘sissy’ meters at the end of a level somehow filling even if you in no way waggle the controller during one.

...Seems legit. Nothing bad ever happens to anyone who crawls into a jagged hole in a fence in the middle of the night when surrounded by blood.

…Seems legit. Nothing bad ever happens to anyone who crawls into a jagged hole in a fence in the middle of the night when surrounded by blood.

One memorable time I was playing through a level for the umpteenth time and finally completed it only for the game to taunt me with a quip about my basically needing to go hide under a blanket while during the very next level when I nearly jumped out of my skin at a well placed and new to me jump scare it told me I had nerves of steel.

Now here is the part of the review that I like to call ‘random crap that was said during the game’. Some of this will actually be from my brother’s run as I made him play it to make up for him making me play through the first level of Dark Souls II blind (and I don’t play that type of game so I had no idea what to do at first) and spent a good hour or so laughing at me.

~’This looks like the owner’s own personal crop of weed.’ -Regarding the field from level 3 (the delivery boy level) with the grass covered play set and oddly shaped ‘plants’.

~’This person should just lay down the cash to get an LED flashlight or even a crank operated one.’ -Regarding the quickly draining batteries of the flashlights in every level.

~’This is a sign that you’ve taken your delivery to the next level… neither rain, nor sleet, nor slashing knife…’ ‘Oh, no worries, some days are just so strange.’ -Regarding the delivery man not only entering the apartment to attempt to deliver the package but then continues wandering around the buildings afterward rather that high-tailing it out of there.

~’That guy needs to wear bifocals!’ -Regarding the delivery man’s need to hold the package right up to his eye in order to check the address and later being unable to see more than an inch or two in front of his face.

~’Not the death tuba!’ -After yet again missing a jump-scare because my character was facing the entirely wrong direction.

Sacks of bloody garbage bags outside this creepy abandoned apartment? Seems like an invitation to go inside instead of leaving the package on the door step like a normal UPS guy!

Sacks of bloody garbage bags outside this creepy abandoned apartment? Seems like an invitation to go inside instead of leaving the package on the door step like a normal UPS guy!

So is the game worth the play through, I hear nobody ask. In my opinion no. It has all of the ideas and elements to be a great game from the haunting locations and claustrophobic environments of the classic Silent Hill games to the raging jump scares that we’ve come to associate with games like Five Nights at Freddy’s. The problem is that it has extremely limited replay value and even then it isn’t all that scary. I spent most of the short play time simply re-doing levels where I had failed a quick time sequence due to poor control sensitivity or looking for the annoying and sometimes ridiculously placed page fragments that truly require a walk-through to locate. This is made double frustrating by the fact that the levels are so dark that sometimes you don’t know if you’re actually progressing or simply have collided with an obstacle that you can’t see and are slamming the character uselessly and repeatedly against said immovable object. Darkness is atmospheric but it is not, in and of itself, scary.

In addition, the Grudge lady is poorly animated from her chunky octopus hair to her albino son who is practicing his cat calls. Even fans of the original movies are going to be disappointed as there is minimal plot other than that one or all of the characters in the game may or may not be living at the original Grudge site. If the game gave us any reason to relate to or even empathize with the characters this might have played out differently but as it is, slapping a name on the beginning of each level and then asking the player to feel bad when they ultimately meet their untimely demise is bad story writing. This is not to say the game can’t be entertaining for a short time but at least this gamer spent more of her time cursing poor controller sensitivity and crappy batteries then actually feeling frightened and in a haunted house simulator, the sense of impending doom is everything.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – Wii

Damn...I feel sorry for that bird in about twenty minutes. I had a lot of girl problems in high school, but thankfully I never had to worry about a sentient car.

Damn…I feel sorry for that bird in about twenty minutes. I had a lot of girl problems in high school, but thankfully I never had to worry about a sentient car.

Let’s run an experiment. Take out a piece of paper and a pencil (I’ll wait…you good? Good) and write down as many words or phrases as you can that should describe a Zelda game. My list includes things like “adventurous,” “open-world exploration,” “beautiful and grand,” “colorful races and characters,” “excellently designed bosses and dungeons,” or my personal favorite, “clever use of items and tools.” Now make a list of words and phrases that should never under any circumstances describe any installment of the series. To throw out a few examples, try “fetch quests,” “overly linear,” “monotonous transportation,” “small, repetitive world,” “a species of testicle-shaped fruit creatures, “tedious puzzles lurking around every corner,” “Jar-Jar Binks” and any combination of the terms “motion controlled” and “Parkinson’s disease.” Congratulations, you now have a standard for judging Skyward Sword!

...okay, so I'll admit I find her kind of endearing. But I liked the elegant princess-goddess of wisdom better. At least for the purposes of a Zelda game.

…okay, so I’ll admit I find her kind of endearing. But I liked the elegant princess-goddess of wisdom better. At least for the purposes of a Zelda game.

Traditional Zelda games emphasized the open-world exploration, allowing the player to tackle dungeons in virtually any order (save for the few that required specific items to access or complete). I loved this. It let me plan out my game as something unique each time. Maybe I want to get the white sword before going into the first dungeon, or pick up the power glove before any thing else so I could access any location in the Dark World. Or not. Maybe I want to pick up the bow first, or scour the land for 250 rupees to get the blue ring. Maybe I want to ignore the swords entirely and get through as much of the game as possible with just the bow. Despite limitations on graphics and memory, the early incarnations of Link made replaying the game more fun. And while I somewhat understand why they required a linear dungeon order in Ocarina of Time, I would have preferred otherwise, and at least they left plenty of overworld quests open to choice. Sort of.

Unfortunately, each progressive game has doubled down more and more on this linear progression, and in Skyward Sword you don’t seem to have any say in what you do at any given time, as though you asked Nintendo to help you with a science fair project, and three hours later they run out of things for you to hold in place, so they send you upstairs to get it coffee so they can finish the project for you. And remember when you said you liked the fact that the game made you think? Well guess what, they’ve installed plenty of puzzles! Challenging, obtuse, and tedious puzzles lurking around every corner. Convoluted puzzles that make you feel stupid. And if overestimating player intelligence didn’t go far enough, they also manage to underestimate it, too.

Oh no! If only someone had designed this game in a way that let me swing my sword sideways! Like every other Zelda game!

Oh no! If only someone had designed this game in a way that let me swing my sword sideways! Like every other Zelda game!

Seriously Nintendo…two hours of tutorials? You put a motion-controlled sword in our hands and then need to tell us how to swing it left, right, up and down (yet no tutorial for the bug net, which handles about as well as you could expect…assuming Link had an advanced case of Parkinson’s disease)? Did you think we didn’t hear the constant beeping tone denoting low health, that we needed our sidekick to remind us that we need to find hearts? Did you? Really? Because of all the game’s sins, nothing tops saddling you with a companion so obnoxious that you’ll yearn for the halcyon days of “Look!” and “Listen!” and even Jar Jar Binks seems like a step up.

Apparently Nintendo felt the ambiguously gendered Zoras no longer creeped out players enough.

Apparently Nintendo felt the ambiguously gendered Zoras no longer creeped out players enough.

Link’s companion for Skyward Sword, Fi, grated on my nerves like a a block of soft cheese shoved through a fine mesh made of razor wire. Unlike Navi, who would point out useful objects and locations, the King of Red Lions who gave interesting back story and helpful objectives, and Midna, who gave Link super powers, Fi’s main objective compels her to repeat what other characters have only just finished saying. The Chief of the Kiwkis (a species of testicle-shaped fruit creatures) tells you the other kikwis have wandered off and he needs help finding them? Enter Fi to tell you that you should go look for the kikwis. The water dragon asks you to obtain sacred water to heal her wounds? Fi shows up to tell you that you can heal the dragon’s wounds by finding sacred water. Have you encountered your fiftieth time-shift stone, which you’ve used to solve all the previous desert puzzles? Don’t worry! Fi will explains that you can use time-shift stones to solve *this* puzzle. And notice that I didn’t say “how you can use time-shift stones.” That might actually venture into the realm of useful information. Even when you ask her for hints or for mission objectives, she’ll only paraphrase what another character told you, or give you such vital information as “Find hearts to refill your health” or “Bombs help you blow stuff up!”

I like sword fighting as much as the next guy, but this doesn't quite seem grand enough for a Zelda boss.

I like sword fighting as much as the next guy, but this doesn’t quite seem grand enough for a Zelda boss.

As the spirit of the sword and a creation of the goddess–yes, we apparently have a fourth goddess that no one will ever talk about again–she does serve a role in the plot. Namely, every time Link retrieves the MacGuffin currently in vogue with the latest dungeon, a message from the goddess will awaken in her memory banks. She then zips around the chamber like Tinkerbell on Ice because apparently she can only communicate these messages via interpretive dance. Still, for all it adds to what little story I found, I would have preferred walking up to the altar to find a note pinned to the treasure; “Dear Hero: Fire temple next. Eldin Volcano. Best Wishes. -G.” Oddly enough, though, Fi annoyed me the most when she calculated statistics. “Master, I calculate a 95% probability that this enemy guards the item you seek.” “Master, I calculate a 85% chance that you will need a sword to attack these monsters.” “Master, I calculate a 90% chance that if we go to the next dungeon, the game will progress.” Dear Nintendo, you can’t have a character rattle off probabilities like C-3PO (Yes, I just compared Fi to the two most obnoxious characters in the Star Wars universe) without that 5% chance that she gets it wrong!

This skulltula requires precise physical manipulation to expose and hit its weak point. Fortunately, the controls work so perfectly it almost feels psychic! No motion sensing problems at all!

This skulltula requires precise physical manipulation to expose and hit its weak point. Fortunately, the controls work so perfectly it almost feels psychic! No motion sensing problems at all!

But in other news, we all remember all those hours spent sailing the Great Ocean in the Wind Waker, and how Nintendo took those complaints and doubled down on them, giving us the Phantom Hourglass and Spirit Tracks, each one delivering even more monotonous transportation than the one before. Well, fear not, as Skyward Sword offers an airborne mode of tedious travel. As a resident of Skyloft, Link flies a Crimson Loftwing, a giant bird who soars leisurely through the sky in an attempt to arrive fashionably late. The Wii motion control gives you all the precision and handling as flying a stack of Kleenex through a strong breeze, and any quests or games that require the bird rely more on you getting lucky than getting better.

The overly linear design places obstacle after obstacle in Link’s path, each one requiring something you’ll find somewhere else. None of these fetch quests progress the plot or even make game play interesting. Curiously enough, though, I clocked in at roughly 40 hours by the end, a number quite common for RPGs and adventure games. That and the four hours it took to get to the first dungeon give off a strong vibe of Nintendo having nothing to put in the game. After the first five or six hours of chasing Zelda, I got through the first dungeon and came face-to-face with an honest-to-Nayru “Your princess is in another castle” message. Well, you get honesty points for all but admitting that you have absolutely no new ideas.