Archives for category: Nintendo Wii U

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Splatoon, Wii U

Splatoon was grabbing attention right from its announcement. Coming as something of a surprise in Nintendo’s 2014 Digital Event, here was a new IP from the makers of Mario that looked like nothing else glimpsed at E3 that year. Looking like the bastard offspring of Jet Set Radio and Fur Fighters, Splatoon almost feels like a lost Dreamcast classic and sees Nintendo embracing the online shooter, yet doing so on its own terms. In Nintendo EAD’s latest game, you don’t shoot bullets, you fling brightly-coloured ink; you don’t die when you lose to an opponent, you simply get splatted. Where other shooters delight in the spray of claret, Splatoon sees you painting the world with glorious glossy globs of neon-coloured ink.

Of course, everyone knows what Splatoon‘s all about by now, right? Short, sharp three-minute rounds of 4-on-4 multiplayer madness where all that counts is how much territory you’ve claimed once the time is up. You claim that territory by pasting it in the aforementioned shiny goo, the coverage changing by the second as each team tries to paint as much ground as possible. Switching to a squid form allows you to swim through your own ink at speed, which can be used to evade or get the drop on opponents, and even swim up walls to reach higher ground if those walls have been splattered first. Usefully, the much-maligned GamePad shows a live, eagle’s eye view of the map, easily enabling you to see where your attention is needed and launch yourself to a team-mate’s side. The daily two-map rotation may irk, but those quick, fun matches (and the even quicker matchmaking), combined with the regular free content updates, keep the ‘one more go’ factor going until you’ve lost hours bringing life and colour to the world.

Splatoon Inkling Stay Fresh

When talking about the game, it’s generally these Turf War battles that take centre stage, but Splatoon‘s best kept secret is that it’s actually one of the year’s best platformers. Yes, Splatoon has a single player mode, and it’s really good! Set across five ‘worlds’, each with a small handful of separate levels and topped off with a fun boss fight, it’s not the longest game in the world, but it’s fantastically inventive despite its brevity, running at around five hours across its 27 levels and five boss stages.

Where multiplayer is all about inking territory to win, Splatoon‘s single player mode offers a set of platforming and combat challenges, with the odd bit of light puzzling thrown in. You’ll find yourself navigating narrow paths and making timed jumps across vertiginous platforms, often under fire from enemy octolings, and the designers delight in upping the complexity level-by-level, mixing up the formula by introducing new things to throw your ink at, like those pesky sponges that you can expand to create makeshift platforms, but will also shrink under enemy fire, often sending you plummeting to your doom.

All of this comes to a head in the boss battles. They’re of the typical ‘hit the weak spot three times’ template, but they manage to test your grasp of the mechanics introduced over the course of the proceeding stages and provide a decent challenge, at least until you figure out the rhythm to them. The game’s final boss though, certainly tests your reflexes and decision making, and it’s one of the most memorable encounters I can remember in recent years. In truth, it’s more of a boss stage, with the multipart battle taking place across a lengthy level, throwing all manner of mayhem at you and giving you precious little time to pick a target. It is intense. Seriously, when you finally beat that last boss, your hands are going to ache (and not just from gripping the GamePad).

Splatoon Sunken Scrolls

The game may not be all that long, but hunting down all the hidden Sunken Scrolls will take some time.

Looking back at that E3 2014 reveal, it’s interesting to see how Splatoon showcases a younger generation of talent at Nintendo. Its lengthy unveiling in that first Digital Event was led by the three young creators, Producer Nogami and dual Directors Amano and Sakaguchi, as they talked us through the design process behind the game. And if it feels like Splatoon has the punkish edge of a turn-of-the-millennium Dreamcast classic, it still retains all the hallmark polish and solidity that typifies the best of Nintendo.

In recent years, some have wondered whether the company’s reliance on development legend Shigeru Miyamoto may be stifling the creativity of young, up-and-coming developers, while others still have complained about the company’s reliance on well-established IP like Mario and Zelda. Splatoon seems purpose built to dispel such worries, showcasing what Nintendo’s younger talent can do when allowed the freedom to create what they want. Let’s hope it’s the start of a trend that we’ll see continued on NX.

Hyrule Warriors treasure chest
Tomorrow, Nintendo’s first big title since Mario Kart 8 hits the Wii U, and this one’s a little different. For the first time in four years, Nintendo has given an outside studio the keys to one of its biggest franchises, and the result is a curious mash-up of two separate worlds.

When Hyrule Warriors was first revealed, I thought it looked pretty bad. I had no interest in it at all, despite (or perhaps because of) my deep love for the Zelda series. However, as more of the game has been shown in the months since its unveiling, the more interested I’ve become. I’ve noted this before, but Hyrule Warriors strikes me as a massive Zelda fanservice project in the guise of a Musou game, and it’s certainly a great way to draw those unfamiliar with the Dynasty Warriors series, like me, into the franchise.

Taking characters and settings from the much-revered The Legend of Zelda series and matching it to the tactical action of the Dynasty Warriors franchise might seem like an odd fit, but it works quite well in practice. As a total Musou noob, I’m enjoying Hyrule Warriors a great deal – it’s huge fun to storm through the massed ranks of bokoblins and stalchilds (stalchildren?), sending dozens of them flying into the air with a single sweep of Link’s spin attack or Impa’s enormous Giant’s Knife.

Of course, these are just the foot soldiers of the enemy forces, and there are hardier foes to tackle on the battlefield. The tactical side of the game comes in the form of a number of keeps on the map, which can be both captured for and lost by you and your allies. To take a fort, you’ll have to lay the smackdown on a large number of foot soldiers before the keep boss, a larger, sturdier variant, comes out to see what’s going on. Defeating these foes wins the keep. And then there are special enemies out there to grapple with, foes like the nimble, fire-breathing Lizalfos or the shrieking Gibdo.

Hyrule Warriors Dodongo

But it wouldn’t be a Zelda title without some memorable bosses, and so there are of course some huge screen-filling monsters to contend with. When King Dodongo gets dropped into the middle of Hyrule Field surrounded by hundreds of Bokoblins, it seems like utter chaos. By this point though, you’ve unlocked bombs, and we all know what happens when you combine bombs with King Dodongo’s gaping maw. Later on, you’ll fend off Gohma as it launches a massive assault on the Great Deku Tree, and by then you’ve found a bow and arrows (in a chest, of course). And again, you know how you need to take the boss down.

This might sound like a negative, but it’s really not. Here you are battling through familiar places, against familiar foes in familiar ways, and it’s this huge dose of nostalgia that makes the game feel that it’s as much a Zelda game as it is a Warriors one. These battles are freshened up by a heightened sense of urgency that’s never really seen in the Zelda series; during that battle with Gohma, the armoured arachnid was occupying my home base, and if I hadn’t taken him down in time, it would have been an instant game over. It was a close run thing, and defeating it in time to save the Great Deku Tree was an early highpoint.

If it’s not clear yet, the game is utterly drenched in a deep love for the Zelda series. It’s not just seen in the locations, characters, bosses and iconic items like Link’s bombs and bow. It’s seen in the mix of musical themes from across the series that plays over the title screen. It’s seen in the mix of art-styles throughout, with storyboard sequences taking on a Wind Waker aesthetic, while the in-game graphics are reminiscent of both Twilight Princess and Skyward Sword. It’s even seen in the loading screens, with an 8-bit Link running around avoiding NES octoroks. The development team’s love for the source material is visible everywhere throughout the production, and it makes it a real treat for fans of the venerable series.

Hyrule Warrios Impa special attack

There’s plenty of stuff I haven’t had a chance to look too deeply into just yet, like the crafting mechanics that allow you to create buff-conferring badges, or the Smithy, who can transfer skills from one weapon to another. Then there are multiple characters and weapons to unlock, and other modes to play through, like the bite-sized missions of Adventure Mode – this genuinely feels like a game that could last me for a good few months. I have, however, had a chance to play as Impa, and I think she’s set to become a fan favourite here. Her play style is massively satisfying, with every swing of her massive Giant’s Knife conveying the weapon’s full heft. She starts off with a great, heavy-hitting combo that ends with her summoning a massive ball of water to take out foes at a distance, and not only is it useful against enemies in the lava-drenched Eldin Caves, but it looks absolutely spectacular.

And the game does occasionally look a bit special. It’s not a graphical showcase by any means, but when there’s a sea of enemies on-screen and various graphical effects going off as your character spins, pirouettes and poses, it often manages to look rather beautiful. If I have one complaint though, it’s the map. It can often be rather difficult to read in the heat of the moment, making it quite easy to lose your way as you rush off on another time-sensitive errand, but I’m hopeful that it’s something I’ll adjust to after a while of play. Surprisingly, you can’t use the GamePad screen to display a larger, more detailed map – as it stands, it just lists your objectives and there seems to be no way to change that. Given that the map is an essential part of your strategy, this is quite the oversight. At least in the opening stages, you’ll likely find yourself pausing the game to properly scrutinise the map and see where you need to go.

It remains to be seen whether the constant combat of Hyrule Warriors will prove wearying in the long run, though it’s certainly far less one-note than I had expected. There also seems to be plenty to unlock, including a large number of Zelda universe characters to get to grips with, each of which seems to handle very differently. At the very least, I’ll be playing through the entirety of the story before jumping into Adventure Mode to see how that helps to extend the experience.

Bayonetta 2 finally has a launch date!

Late last night Platinum Games’ Yusuke Hashimoto and Akiko Kuroda announced, via the wonderful medium of the Nintendo Direct broadcast, that the Wii U exclusive will launch on October 24th, and it’ll come in three flavours for those of us in Europe.

First up, we’ll be getting the solus version, which contains Bayonetta 2 and… nothing else. Nope, it doesn’t come with a copy of the Wii U port of the first Bayonetta. If you want that, you’ll have to plump for the Special Edition, which packs both games, each in their own game cases, into a card slipcase.

But then there’s the First Print Edition. This is more like the kind of product you’d expect to carry a ‘special edition’ label, packed in an exclusive box (apparently bound in leather) shaped like the Book of Angels, the in-game tome that details the Hierarchy of Laguna. This lovely box contains both games in their own game cases, with a bonus art book contained within the packaging itself. You can see the First Print Edition below, and as an aside, it’s nice to see the cover art for the first game mirroring the original, Kamiya-approved Japanese art from the original release.

Bayonetta 2 first print edition

I’m sure it’s common knowledge by now that I am a sucker for a limited edition, so it should come as no surprise that I wanted this as soon as it was announced. It’s a shame that the art book isn’t a proper book, especially for a game like Bayonetta that has incredible artwork (seriously – hunt down a copy of The Eyes of Bayonetta if you don’t believe me), but I’ll still eagerly pore over those pages. It appears to be exclusive to Game in the UK (at least at the time of writing), costs £59.99 and is limited to 15,300 units, so if you want one you’d better jump in and secure a pre-order now. I’ve already secured mine.

Also announced in last night’s broadcast, which I’ve embedded at the bottom of this piece, was a new Nintendo-themed outfit for Bayonetta to wear. I thought the Peach, Samus and Link costumes were a little bit odd when they were announced back at E3, but this one… this is something else.

Bayonetta Starfox Fox McCloud whygodwhy

Why God, why?! What did we do to deserve this!?

Truly, I’m sorry you had to see that.

But anyway, that can happily be ignored in favour of the stunning action Bayonetta 2 will be bringing us when it launches in seven weeks. The Direct itself is a good watch, and takes time to explain a few things for those new to the series, but keep watching for the epic lengthy trailer at the end – it looks utterly mental, exactly the kind of thing I’d expect from one of my favourite games of the last five years. It looks like Platinum are throwing everything they’ve got into this game, and I can’t wait to get my mitts on it.

In a new Hyrule Warriors-focussed Direct broadcast, Nintendo today announced that Ganondorf, the main antagonist of the Legend of Zelda series, will be a playable character in the upcoming Warriors/Zelda mash-up.

His appearance in Hyrule Warriors seems to give a nod to Skyward Sword‘s Demise; both are hulking, top-heavy characters, have the same long red hair, and they each carry a huge, black serrated blade. Players will also be able to get new costumes for Ganondorf, changing his appearance to match that of Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess. Costumes from those same games will also be available for both Link and Zelda, and all of them can be obtained by registering the game on Club Nintendo. You can see all the costumes in the video below.

Ganondorf joins Twilight Princess‘ Zant and Skyward Sword‘s Ghirahim on the side of playable bad guys, while on the heroes’ side we have Link, Zelda, Sheik, Impa, Darunia, Princess Ruto, Midna, Agitha, Skyward Sword‘s sword spirit Fi and all-new character Lana, to bring the total playable character count to 13.

Elsewhere in the Direct, Koei Tecmo’s Yosuke Hayashi gives us an introduction to mission structure and character progression, as well as detailing some of the trademark Zelda elements that will be present in the game, such as using bombs to help take down King Dodongo – bombs that you will, of course, find in a chest. Nintendo’s top Zelda man, Eiji Aonuma, also appears throughout to introduce more small-scale franchise elements that will appear in Hyrule Warriors, such as cuccos, cutting grass and gold skulltulas.

It’s a good watch for fans of the Zelda franchise who may not have dabbled in the Warriors series before, like myself. Not only does it give a good indication of what to expect from the game, but we can also see how some of the characters handle in battle. Surprisingly, I’m quite looking forward to getting to grips with Lana’s combat style – who wouldn’t want to ride into battle on the back of the Deku Tree Sprout, or summon a giant cucco to vanquish your enemies?

The Direct also details Hyrule Warriors‘ Adventure Mode, which presents specific missions on a grid styled after a top-down Zelda map – appropriately rendered in an 8-bit aesthetic. Each block on the grid represents a mission with its own objectives – the challenge shown in the video is to defeat 300 enemies in ten minutes – so it seems like it’s essentially a challenge mode, and completing a challenge unlocks the adjacent blocks, opening up more objectives to tackle. Using exploration items on the map screen, you can also uncover new weapons or heart pieces that may appear as rare drops in the missions themselves. It also sounds like Adventure Mode is the only way to unlock some playable characters, which is unfortunate for those that aren’t drawn to challenge mode-type gameplay.

Hyrule Warriors is shaping up to be quite a celebration of the Zelda series, and this can be felt in the variety of stages featured in the game. The broadcast focuses on three of the areas we’ll be able to battle through; Ocarina of Time‘s Lake Hylia, Twilight Princess‘ Twilight Field, and Skyward Sword‘s Skyloft. I’m genuinely looking forward to paying Skyloft another visit, but that music – I don’t like what they’ve done with ‘Ballad of the Goddess’. I get that the background music needs to be faster-paced to accommodate the action, but it just doesn’t work, for me. Having said that, the up-tempo rendition of Twilight Princess‘ field music works really well, and I doubt I’ll be able to refrain from whistling along with it.

Development of Hyrule Warriors was completed just over a week ago, in time for it’s Japanese release on August 14th. We in Europe will be getting our hands on Nintendo and Koei Tecmo’s collaborative effort on September 19th, and if you’re willing to give Game fifty of your hard-earned pounds, you can get a Limited Edition that comes complete with a replica of Link’s primary-coloured scarf.

hwscarf

Standard edition for me, then.

Nintendo and Tecmo Koei have announced the next instalment in the Project Zero series via a lengthy, creepy trailer.

Titled Zero: Nuregarasu no Miko (The Raven-haired Shrine Maiden), it will be released on September 27th in Japan (possibly in an effort to tie into the upcoming Zero film). As Nintendo co-owns the rights to future titles in the series, the game will of course be an exclusive for the Wii U.

The game stars protagonist Yuri Kozukata, who appears to have the ability to see those that are trapped in the land of the dead and return them to reality. As a result of this ability, she is asked to track someone down in Hikamiyami, a sacred mountain with a huge lake at its summit.

The game will apparently be the largest instalment yet in the series, and it seems from the trailer that water will play a large role, with the rain pouring down on Yuri certainly adding to the atmosphere as she wades through shallow pools and winds her way around dark, twisting mountain paths with only a torch to light her way. The series trademark camera obscura returns, and it seems that the Wii U’s gamepad will be used both for this mechanic as well as to show what the world looks like through Yuri’s eyes.

With Nintendo struggling to sell consoles and a number of third parties pushing releases back (or abandoning the platform altogether), it’s good to see a developer keeping the faith and announcing new projects. What’s even better is that their game will be using the GamePad for something other than simple off-screen play – though it’s to be expected, given Project Zero’s central camera gimmick; Tecmo Koei would be crazy not to leverage the second screen of the GamePad for the camera obscura view, and it’ll be interesting to see how they can keep players on their toes by dividing attention between the two screens.

cameraobscura

What’s surprising is how close to release Nuregarasu no Miko is. How often do we see a game being formally unveiled only two months before release? It’s worth remembering that Tecmo Koei also has Omega Force and Team Ninja working on fellow Wii U exclusive Hyrule Warriors, which will also see release in September.

Of course, what those of us outside of Japan have to worry about is whether the game will reach our shores at all. Nintendo decided not to release the last title in the series, 2008’s Zero: Tsukihami no Kamen, outside of their home territory at all, prompting a fan translation effort.

However, with over 100 million Wiis sold in the last generation of consoles, Nintendo could afford to ignore worldwide releases for the odd exclusive (indeed, the US branch originally had no plans to localise the Operation Rainfall titles for the North American region). But with the Wii U finding difficulty in the market, Nintendo will surely want to do everything they can to improve the image of the console among gamers. They had a fantastic E3, and opinions around the Wii U appear to be slowly changing. If they want to keep up the momentum, coming out and announcing a worldwide release for a new Project Zero would be a great way to do it.

Cross-posted on 16bitkings

hwfi_editedA few days ago, a whole host of Hyrule Warriors screens emerged showing off plenty of Skyward Sword content for the upcoming Zelda/Warriors hybrid. In the screens, which you can see here, we were treated to views of stages based on Link and Zelda’s peaceful home of Skyloft, the verdant Faron Woods, and what appears to be a flattened-out recreation of the Sealed Grounds. As far as characters go, we got glimpses of antagonists Ghirahim and The Imprisoned, as well as Link’s helper throughout Skyward Sword, Fi, who appeared to be a playable character.

Now, via a new trailer, we have confirmation that Fi is indeed playable, joining the cast alongside Zelda, Link, Impa, Midna, Twilight Princess‘ bug princess Agitha and new character Lana. In the trailer, we can see Fi’s balletic fighting style as she skips and skates her way through massed ranks of bokoblins, reminiscent of the way she dances in Skyward Sword. As the spirit of the Goddess Sword, Fi can also transform into the sacred blade to attack her enemies.

Hyrule Warriors seems to be shaping up to be the ultimate Zelda fanservice project (you can even hookshot Termina’s moon out of the sky, for goodness’ sake!), and going by the almost entirely female cast of playable characters revealed thus far, one certainly couldn’t accuse Nintendo and Tecmo Koei of not being inclusive.

I’ve never really had an interest in the Warriors games – they’ve just never particularly appealed to me. But taking the Warriors template and turning it into a celebration of one of my favourite franchises is a great way to draw me into the series.

Hyrule Warriors launches for Wii U on September 19th.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess often gets passed off as something of a reimagined Ocarina of Time, and it’s not too difficult to see why; like most of the Zelda games we’ve seen since that much-loved 1998 instalment, Twilight Princess builds on the foundations laid down by Link’s first foray into 3D. Moreover, with a return to a more muted, ‘realistic’ presentation it’s not a difficult conclusion to jump to.

But for my money, Twilight Princess is the ultimate evolution of that strain of the Zelda franchise, taking everything Ocarina did and making it grander, darker, and more mysterious, while focusing more on story and scene composition than any Zelda that came before. It takes what made Ocarina great, strengthens those building blocks, and adds in new experiences (like the ability to become a wolf and sniff out objectives), ultimately managing to earn its own distinct identity.

Nowhere is this more clear than in the game’s Hyrule Field theme. For those of us that played Ocarina of Time back in 1998, it’s unlikely that anything will beat that first moment of stepping onto the expansive Hyrule Field – seeing a game world open up like that just wasn’t something we were used to back in the late nineties. As a spectacle, it’s not something Twilight Princess could hope to replicate, and to my mind, it relies on its theme to distinguish itself from its legendary precursor.

Where Ocarina‘s Hyrule Field theme is playful and sunny, reflecting the theme of a young boy setting off into the world to meet his destiny, Twilight Princess‘ theme is altogether more rousing, suggestive of the themes of a brave young man thrust out into the wider world in an effort to rescue those he holds dear. It sounds determined.

There are of course moments that call back to Ocarina of Time, and one piece that plays on that familiarity comes during a moment where we adventure through the Sacred Grove, in an effort to hunt down the legendary Master Sword, the Blade of Evil’s Bane. Link needs the sword to undo a curse placed upon him, and so we find ourselves in a lost part of the world that seems strangely familiar – it’s as if the long-forgotten ruins of Ocarina‘s Temple of Time have been overrun by the Lost Woods, and this impression is built upon by the music, a mysterious take on Saria’s Song.

It creates a strange mood, taking a well-known melody from a past game and stretching it into something different. Its backing melody feels more like something we would have heard in Nobuo Uematsu’s Final Fantasy VIII soundtrack than something you’d hear in a Zelda game – immediately mysterious, tempering the known, the familiar, with the unknown, the enigmatic. As a whole, it seems to say, “this place may feel familiar, but it’s not the same.”

My favourite couple of pieces of Twilight Princess music though, are also the most idiosyncratic. They’re pure Twilight Princess, laden with mystery, the weight of ancient wisdom long forgotten, and a healthy dose of the melancholy. The first of these is ‘Light Spirits’.

Early in the game, Link must journey to three sacred springs and bring light back to the spirits that dwell there, undoing the dark curse placed upon them by Zant, the King of the Twilight. This theme is heard whenever Link converses with one of the spirits, and it imparts a feeling of their timelessness, suggesting that they have long watched over Hyrule, while also creating a mood that speaks to the unknown nature of these beings that show themselves only to a chosen few. The orchestral arrangement, used for the Zelda symphony concerts, is even better, sounding like something Danny Elfman might have conjured up for an early-nineties Tim Burton film.

My favourite piece by far though comes during an incredibly emotional scene with Midna. After being confronted by Zant at the Lanayru Spirit Spring, Midna is forcibly exposed to the spirit’s light, leaving her near death. Link, transformed back into a wolf by Zant’s magic, desperately rushes toward Castle Town, a dying Midna sprawled on his back, to look for help.

It’s the music that makes this scene so special, a beautifully emotive piano-led piece that plays as you tear across a moonlit Hyrule Field at night, in search of aid for the friend that has been with you since the start of your journey. And it’s not over-complicated – that the music is so understated as you desperately rush to save Midna makes it all the more effective.

The quality of the compositions is such that it’s a shame Nintendo decided to use sequenced music rather than record with a full orchestra, something they did with great success in their next title in the series, Skyward Sword. Happily, with the advent of video-game focused symphonic concerts, we’re able to experience the music as its creators no doubt intended it to be heard, and it’s all the more stirring for it.

Of course, The Legend of Zelda has always had strong, memorable music, and it makes me wish for a Zelda-themed music game akin to Square-Enix’s excellent Theatrhythm Final Fantasy. Like that other much-loved franchise, Zelda has over a quarter of a century of series history to draw from, and it’d be great to celebrate that in the form of a rhythm-action game. For now, I’ll have to content myself with the upcoming fanservice extravaganza that Hyrule Warriors looks like being.

Mario Kart 8 is finally with us, and sees Nintendo experimenting in one of the areas they typically lag behind in versus their home console rivals – that of online features. The latest entry in Nintendo’s kart franchise allows players to save and edit replays and, surpisingly, upload them directly to Youtube. I’ve spent a bit of time over the last couple of days toying with the functionality, and thought I’d share some of my results. To begin with, below is my very first MK8 upload.

Options are fairly limited for edits; you can choose which drivers to focus on, but can’t direct the replay camera yourself, for instance, and while you can view a full-race replay on your Wii U, uploads are limited to either 30, 45 or 60 second montages. You can tell the console to focus on different aspects of the racing, such as drifting, weapon hits and others, and using the sticks or buttons you can either speed up or slow down the action. The negative here is that those changes in playback speed unfortunately don’t make it into the uploaded clip.

Happily, the software that creates your clips handles camera angles and edits really well, giving your footage some great views, like the elevated hairpin in my Mario Circuit clip below. While you can’t get particularly hands-on with the captured video feed, you can at least trust the game to do a pretty decent job of preserving those moments you want to save for posterity.

So I’d say it’s a bit bare-bones from my short time with it, though I haven’t yet delved into the ‘Mario Kart TV’ option on the main menu to see if a more fully-featured system is hidden away in there – something to explore later. For now, I will say that it’s a nice additional feature that hopefully points to Nintendo embracing the internet a bit more as they move forward.

Of course, I’m sure a certain amount of scepticism will be in order, given Nintendo’s actions towards Let’s Players last year, and it’s telling that all of my MK8 uploads were tagged with copyright notices the second they went up – whether this is down to Nintendo themselves or Google’s automatic content-sweeping I don’t know. I’m sure someone more knowledgeable about that situation will dig a bit deeper. I don’t monetise my videos, so I’m not personally losing out, and anyone that does likely understands the situation far better than I do.

For now, Enjoy this four-minute replay of Star Cup 100cc that I put together, and if you like what you see, keep an eye on my Mario Kart 8 replay playlist here.

colaurora
Today marks the European release of Ubisoft’s gorgeous RPG/platformer hybrid Child of Light. Built on the UbiArt Framework, the same engine powering the recent 2D Rayman games, Child of Light is a downloadable fairytale-inspired title written by Far Cry 3 scribe Jeffrey Yohalem. The game stars Aurora, daughter of an Austrian duke who wakes in a dream-like world and must find her way back to her own reality, meeting up with a number of companions along the way, including the helpful blue firefly Igniculus.

I pre-ordered the Deluxe Edition, which contains a download code for the game, a 24-page art book packed with plenty of beautiful concept art, a light-up Igniculus keyring, some DLC extras, and, curiously, a poster by famed Japanese artist Yoshitaka Amano. Aside from the development team possibly being influenced by his work, I’m not quite sure why it’s there – as far as I know he didn’t work on the game. I’m not complaining though, being something of an Amano fan (and an owner of this), and it’s an utterly glorious poster. Images of it don’t quite do it justice; it’s rich in both colour and detail, and printed on thick, high-quality stock. It’s just a shame that it’s been tightly folded to fit in the box as I’d love to frame it.

I decided to try out the PS4’s video recording features for the first time, and made a video of the first fifteen minutes of Aurora’s adventure, which you can see below. Curiously, the game seems to strip out audio during gameplay, making my video oddly silent. Considering that the intro cutscene features full audio, I can only imagine that this is a ‘design decision’ by Ubisoft – I tried making a few other videos from the game and sadly came up with the same results. It’s a strange decision on Ubisoft’s part – perhaps it’s to do with licensing issues surrounding Cœur de pirate‘s soundtrack. Either way, it means you can’t enjoy the game’s audio, but you can still get a look at the game’s lovely visuals, and read on below for my impressions from my brief time with the game.

I managed to play the first half-hour or so and thought I’d get some thoughts down on (virtual) paper. The first thing you’ll notice is the visuals. This is an exceptionally pretty game. Screenshots and videos don’t quite manage to communicate just how beautiful the hand-drawn art that makes up the environments Aurora must travel through is. You really need to see this in all it’s glory on your big screen to fully appreciate it. The soundtrack is nicely understated, allowing you to focus more on the visual side of the presentation, though I think I’ll have to pay a bit more attention to it next time I play it, as all I can remember now is that it didn’t get in the way.

In terms of gameplay, I was strongly reminded of two games, at least in the early stages. The first of these is Limbo, Playdead’s puzzle-platformer from 2010. I said at the top of the piece that Child of Light is something of a hybrid between two genres, with the platforming seeming to take up the majority of your time. It has a similar minimalist feel to Limbo, a similar pace of movement and a similar floaty jump. Just as in Limbo, one of the first things you’ll do is grab and push a block to reach a higher platform. There’s also some light puzzling to contend with, which I hope will continue through the game and provide some decent head-scratchers.

None of this is a bad thing, considering what a playable game Limbo is, but of course Child of Light doesn’t share the former game’s bleak, lonely tone. It’s not long before you stumble upon Igniculus, who you have to control with the right stick (or the DualShock 4’s touchpad) and right from your first meeting you’re gently taught how he can help you out. While platforming, Igniculus can whizz around the screen collecting glowing orbs (which can help to refill Aurora’s HP and MP) as well as holding enemies in place to allow Aurora to get in position for a back attack. Of course, Igniculus can also help you out in battle.

Fighting is a different proposition altogether, taking the form of a turn-based battle system in the grand old jRPG tradition. Aurora stands on the left of the screen, her enemies on the right, and at the bottom of the screen is the time bar, with icons moving along it representing both Aurora and her enemies. The last quarter of the bar is the casting bar; every action has its own cast time – the more powerful the attack, the longer the cast time, and anyone who takes a hit while casting may find their attack cancelled and be pushed back down the time bar. If you’re reading this and thinking, “Hmm, that sounds an awful lot like Grandia“, then you’re right. Because it’s lifted straight out of Grandia. Of course, in Child of Light, we also have Igniculus on our side, and using the right stick we can hinder enemies, slowing their progress along the time bar to give Aurora a chance to get an attack in.

It’s very rewarding to be able to get a strike in with Aurora, delaying an enemies attack, and then use Igniculus to hinder the same enemy, allowing Aurora to overtake them and strike again before your opponent has even had a chance to retaliate. Igniculus’ ability to slow an enemy isn’t unlimited however, as it’s governed by a meter (which can often be refilled by gathering blue orbs in the corners of the screen) meaning that rather than being a win button, it becomes a resource that you have to use effectively to gain the upper hand.

This being an RPG, there are of course level-ups and skill trees, though I’ve only levelled up once in my short time with the game, choosing a ‘Starlight’ ability that hits dark-aligned enemies hard. A few reviews I’ve read have mentioned that the game is very easy on the default normal difficulty, so I started the game on hard, hoping for a bit of a challenge. I want an RPG to expect me to make thoughtful, effective use of both my abilities and build, so hopefully the hard setting will offer that kind of experience.

I do have a couple of minor issues that I hope will ease as the game goes on though. Firstly, all of the game’s dialogue is told in rhyming couplets, and these can be quite forced at times, eliciting the odd groan. In general, the dialogue is solid enough (and I have no doubt that this is eased somewhat by the fact that none of it is voiced), but setting yourself the challenge of telling an entire story in rhyme pretty much ensures you’ll have to fudge it every now and then. For the most part, it manages to help sell the dreamy fairytale setting, but don’t expect it to be flawless.

Secondly, unless you’re playing in co-op, you’re expected to control both Aurora and Igniculus at the same time. Aurora is on the left stick, with Igniculus on the right, and it often means you’ll stop moving one so that you can control the other with greater ease. In battle, this isn’t much of an issue; when Aurora can take action, the game will pause, giving you time to move Igniculus near an enemy in case you need to slow them down and then choose an action for Aurora to carry out. In platforming, it can slow your pace somewhat – if you leave Igniculus in place and move Aurora he won’t follow, so you find yourself trying to move both at the same time so as not to leave him off-screen.

Hopefully, both of these issues will prove to be minor niggles that I’ll get used to, as I’m really enjoying the game so far. I can see myself flying through it over the next few days – reviews peg it in the range of 12-15 hours, which, while admittedly short for an RPG, is fine for a downloadable title. It’s genuinely surprising, not to mention encouraging, to see a huge, AAA-publisher like Ubisoft not just taking a punt on a smaller downloadable title like this, but actually getting behind it too, putting out plenty of ‘behind the scenes‘-type videos on Youtube to drum up interest in something that isn’t the usual huge-budget sequel. More like this please, games industry!

WW1Do you remember that Spaceworld 2000 Zelda demo? I certainly do. Coming off the back of Ocarina of Time and Majora’s Mask, it was exactly the kind of next-gen Zelda I was looking forward to on Nintendo’s then-unnamed Gamecube. But a year later, at 2001’s Spaceworld, this happened. And I wasn’t happy about it.

It wasn’t the cel-shading (after all, I was already a huge fan of Jet Set Radio, the game that pioneered the technique). It wasn’t even the kiddy, cartoon-in-motion aesthetic. My issue was very simple: after a year of looking forward to something, I was handed the sudden realisation that it didn’t even exist. I was disappointed, and while I wasn’t one of those people decrying the game all over the internet, it did mean that I walked away from the franchise for about a decade.

Upon its 2003 release, The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker received massive critical acclaim, yet even this reception, backed up with positive reactions from friends whose gaming opinions I trusted, couldn’t bring me around. I had simply moved on to other games. Or so I thought.

The Zelda series has always held a special place in my heart though (Ocarina and Awakening in particular, the former easily sitting in my top five games of all time), and 2011’s excellent Skyward Sword eventually brought me back into the fold. It was as much the time of year as it was the game; Christmas just feels like a great time to play through one of Link’s adventures, and this past Christmas, it was the Wii U and its HD remake of Wind Waker that was grabbing all my attention. And so, despite having just bought an Xbox One, I ordered a Wii U Wind Waker HD bundle. And I’m glad I did.

The Wind Waker begins on Outset Island, where a young boy has just come of age. The islanders have a tradition of dressing young boys in the image of a legendary hero, hoping to instill that hero’s courage and bravery in them. That boy is Link and his big day is about to be ruined. A monstrous bird soaring high over Outset Island breaks the sleepy day-to-day existence Link has always known, and hot on it’s talons is a pirate ship, aiming its cannons directly at the huge invader. In its clutches is that ship’s captain, a young blonde girl by the name of Tetra, and when the bird is struck by a cannonball, dropping her into the dark, forbidding forest at the summit of the island Link, like any hero worth his salt, sets off to help. Unfortunately for him, having saved Tetra, the huge bird sets its sights on his younger sister Aryll, mistaking her for its prey. She is snatched away before his eyes.

Link hears from Quill, an inter-island flying postman, that the bird has been searching out blonde girls with pointy ears and taking them to the Forsaken Fortress in the far north. The bird is doing the bidding of some dark force that has made the fortress his base of operations and so, joining up with the pirates, Link leaves his island, setting off to save his sister.

What follows will be no surprise to fans of the series; these games have long been married to a certain formula of field exploration, dungeon-puzzling and item acquisition and as a newcomer to a game that many first experienced a decade ago, I found it striking just how similar the game feels to Ocarina of Time. Granted, you sail from location to location across an expansive sea, and yes, there are new gadgets to get to grips with (the grappling hook being a particular favourite, used not only to traverse the environment but also to stun or steal items from enemies), but the core gameplay is identical. You move in the same way, you get around dungeons in the same way, you target and, save for a new button-prompt dodge/counter system, attack enemies in the same way.

Granted, this isn’t really a negative as Ocarina still feels remarkably playable today, some fifteen years after its release. Like Bungie with the first Halo title, Nintendo absolutely nailed 3D Zelda on their first go, and so it’s difficult to begrudge the similarities in game design between the two. It’s also worth pointing out that most people would have played Wind Waker five years after Ocarina; until recently, the only Zelda I’d played since that 1998 masterpiece had been Skyward Sword which, with its motion-controlled swordplay, felt like a different take on the series.

But again, it’s hardly a bad thing that Wind Waker plays so similarly to what may be the greatest game ever made, and there’s plenty here to enjoy over the forty-or-so hours you’ll spend in Link’s company. The Great Sea is dotted with memorable environments, charming characters, satisfying puzzles and epic boss battles; the Tower of the Gods in particular, coming at about the halfway-point in the game, is an almost-perfect distillation of everything that Wind Waker is. And then of course there’s those visuals.

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Nintendo’s choice of graphical style has certainly been vindicated with the passage of time. The game just hasn’t aged visually at all. Like the aforementioned Jet Set Radio it’s still strikingly beautiful, and if you didn’t know any better you could easily mistake this HD remastering for a new-for-2013 release. Eiji Aonuma’s team have attempted to give Wind Waker HD the same respectful makeover that Grezzo afforded the 2011 3DS release of Ocarina – that game looked much as you remember it, until you saw comparison shots side by side, and that’s much the same for this re-release. Slightly dampening that intended goal is a new lighting system that, while giving the game a more modern sheen, can occasionally take away from the flat, cartoon-y look the original release sought to create, sometimes highlighting contours and gradients on character models that make them appear like small figurines in a diorama. The effect is not enough to diminish the enhancements elsewhere in the production however, as Wind Waker HD is a stunningly clean, sharp and colourful presentation.

This aesthetic direction also affords Wind Waker the most expressive incarnation of the legendary hero we’ve ever seen. Link has always been a silent character, essentially a cipher for the player to project themselves into his adventures throughout Hyrule. While that’s still the case here, Link’s character design makes his emotions easy to read, his big, expressive eyes telegraphing everything from bold courage, fear, exhaustion and sadness all the way through to delight. And his facial expression in his ‘sidle’ animation is enough to melt the heart of anyone still decrying the choice of art style.

The developers also managed to absolutely nail the tone of the game, every aspect of the production coming together to deliver a playful, almost childlike experience. From the sunny, colourful visuals to the memorable supporting cast (Tetra, Medli and Makar being my personal favourites) to the excellent soundtrack, it all combines to create a sense of whimsical adventure. The story and setting even manage to leave some room for a bit of gentle shading later on, as Link delves beneath the Great Sea and learns the truth behind the ancient civilization that secretly lies far below the surface in a sequence that ties the events of this game to Ocarina of Time. Even the despotic villain Ganon is afforded a bit of humanity, with the writers giving him some motivation for his acts of evil.

Over the years, I’ve seen claims that Wind Waker is a better Zelda than Ocarina, and though I absolutely loved my time with it I can’t agree. For a start, the pacing is nowhere near as tight as the older game. I can count on one finger the amount of times I felt Ocarina was becoming fatiguing (and I don’t mean the Water Temple), but the last couple of hours of Wind Waker felt poorly paced to me. The infamous Triforce Hunt has in this version been toned down, yet I feel they could have halved it again as much of it just felt like busy work – especially the horrid ‘savage labyrinth’ area on Outset Island. Thirty floors of combat isn’t so much fun as it is somewhat wearying.

Secondly, sailing across the sea from island to island can be a bit tedious – often, I’d set my direction, hoist my sail and then read something until I reached my destination (a habit which can prove dangerous if you’re sailing near to the Forsaken Fortress and head straight into a mine). I’d imagine ten years ago the sheer scale of the Great Sea would have been impressive, the promise of hoisting your sail and heading off in any direction imparting a sense of freedom rarely felt in its contemporaries. In the here and now, when more games than not seem to feature an open world, it feels a bit empty. Granted, the Great Sea is divided into 49 squares, and every tile on the map is home to an island or some other feature to discover and explore, but the distances between them (and the slow nature of travel until you can get the new fast sail) make travelling a bit tedious. I managed to completely fill out my map more through a completist’s compulsion than a desire to see what else the ocean had to offer.

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But that’s a handful of dull hours out of forty excellent ones, and when you’re deep in the bowels of a multi-level dungeon, using your latest piece of gear in a novel way to get past a meticulously crafted puzzle, or methodically taking down an enormous screen-filling boss monster, none of that matters. The Zelda series has always been about those dungeons, and here they’re as good as they’ve always been. It speaks volumes about Nintendo’s almost-timeless game design sensibilities that The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD can be re-released ten years later and still be one of the best games I played in 2013.