DJ Hero Retrospective

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Rhthym gaming took the world by storm in 2005. A relatively unknown company by the name of Harmonix brought Guitar Hero into the public conscious and blasted themselves to stardom. The mixture of an old-school score mentality mixed with classic rock tunes lead to an immensely popular debut that would see the series continue on for a good few years.

I jumped on the bandwagon in 2007 when Guitar Hero II was released for the Xbox 360. While I never fancied myself an actual rock star, I had some previous experience using a guitar and I liked that songs I truly admired were getting more recognition. It also felt super cool to nail insane solos without breaking a sweat.

Most of my time in college was spent playing Guitar Hero in one form or another. Its sequel or the highly polished third entry gained more of my attention in 2007 than any other game or series.

While the success of the series showed the games industry that graphics and genre weren’t that important in making lots of money, the brand eventually began to stagnate. There is only so much you can do with the formula before people realize they’ve had their fill.

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Harmonix seemed to catch on to this after creating the second game. They did not sign with Activision to produce the third and instead went on to make Rock Band, the biggest competitor to the Guitar Hero franchise. The business model was also dramatically better; instead of creating yearly sequels, Harmonix opted to utilize the online connectivity of newer consoles to continually produce extra content for the game.

Activision sort of copied that idea, but still put out a staggering amount of games with the Guitar Hero branding. Handheld consoles got installments; cellphones weren’t free from virtual shredding; there was even a spin-off series focused more on hip-hop and dance music.

That is where my interest truly piqued. I’ve always been a fan of classic rock and I love heavy metal, but to hear modern pop songs and classic hits mashed together in some freestyle kind of insanity was just golden. It encapsulated everything I liked about the internet era of music discovery with a style of gameplay that I had quickly grown to love.

Enter DJ Hero, Activision’s attempt to branch out the Hero name to reach wider audiences. The entire genre was quickly on the decline, but this didn’t stop Activision and Freestyle Games from attempting something different.

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DJ Hero was a more back to basics approach to gameplay progression mixed with some popular artists and DJs that were remixing classic dance tunes alongside some rock and metal hits. It created a strange, dissonant sound that felt comfortable in the space of gaming.

It also had a much more structurally solid controller and gameplay that totally emphasized high scores and never ending combos. Different ideas like rewinding and crossfading also put a greater emphasis on player interaction within each track. Gone were the days of pretending to be a star; you were now given some control over what the music sounded like.

The sequel, DJ Hero 2, improved almost every aspect of the previous game. The visuals were cleaner, the audio was better mixed and the soundtrack was even more solid (despite it’s omission of Daft Punk tunes from the first game). 2 focused more on rocking clubs and EDM, but its gameplay was as frenetic and score happy as before.

It also didn’t hurt that the multiplayer was greatly expanded. While credit needs to be given to the developers for attempting to not nickel and dime their consumers (the original DJ Hero has a mode that allows a player with a Guitar Hero controller to play along), having multiplayer that actually utilizes the new fangled controller just makes more sense.

Each mode feels like an intense duel with a potential usurper. Score and accuracy are dominant alongside tracks mixed specifically to up the ante with each successive checkpoint. It brought a cut-throat attitude to competitive play that had long been missing in the rhythm gaming genre.

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Sadly, 2010 marked the year that this genre of games couldn’t sustain itself. The influx of releases and more costly instrument peripherals turned any newer customers off. While they were happy with buying one “toy” and sticking with it, having to collect a virtual band in your house was too much.

Not to mention that Guitar Hero was releasing games that focused on specific bands and having redux packages of older content, but even competitor series Rock Band had started to come out with “track packs” and games dedicated to the career of specific artists (granted, the Beatles are fairly important).

For what it’s all worth, I still believe that DJ Hero was the best thing to come out of that explosion of popularity. Guitar Hero also felt a little cheesy to me and a bit insulting to actual musicians. People who had no intention of picking up actual instruments or no understanding of what went into making music treated these songs like simple levels.

I remember playing a song by Rush and explaining to my friends how I saw them live and had been a fan for most of high school, but they couldn’t care less. To them, Rush was the song with the hard drum section and female singer. It was infuriating to me.

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With DJ Hero, it didn’t matter if you truly didn’t care about the artists are songs on offer. The game required you to be more active in what was going on. You couldn’t simply sit there with controller in hand and bang through a few songs; you had to pay attention to your crossfader, work on maximizing your note streak for potential rewinds and add your own personal flair (via samples) to up your score.

The shift in focus from a slightly more involved spectator to a remix guru just made everything feel more rewarding. Despite the track list being the same for everyone, the way you heard the song belonged to you.

It truly made me want to consider being a DJ as a career path. While I never went down that road, I started a friendship with a DJ at a club out of my amazement for what he was able to create. Those songs weren’t his, but the way they were played was wholly his invention.

DJ Hero perfectly encapsulated the atmosphere of the club scene while making the player feel like the star of the show. It didn’t hurt that Daft Punk leant their likeness to the original game and that Deadmau5 signed on for the sequel, either. DJ Hero was into a burgeoning music scene before it erupted into mainstream acceptance.

Sadly, the potential third game will never happen. Both Activision and Harmonix tried their hands at new Guitar Hero and Rock Band titles last year, but sales figures were underwhelming for both. People seem to have had their fun and want these games to fade into blissful memories.

It may be pointless to ask for another entry into the DJ Hero series, but I’d pay a lot to see a return to such vibrancy and joy within music gaming. If I’m going to pretend I’m any kind of star of a music game, at least it should be the game that actually gave me control over the sounds pumping through my speakers.

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Series I Love – Super Mario Bros

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One cold, snowy day in 1992, my father decided to let me and my sister try out his NES. My mother had gotten the console as a first Christmas gift for my father and he liked to hide it away so we kids wouldn’t break it. Little did I realize, but his choice to let us touch that console would change my future.

I remember him going behind the television and fiddling with the coaxial cable. We had the RF/switch for our NES, so connecting it was as easy as pulling teeth (almost literally). After that, he switched the television to channel 4, dialed the nob and we were set.

Well, not just yet. The console didn’t display properly, so he had to remove the cartridge and blow into it. I never thought to question why at such a young age. I just took all of these steps as gospel. After “cleaning” the cartridge, my father put it back into the NES and we were golden.

He gave me the controller and tried to explain how Super Mario Bros. worked. I was 4 years old at the time, so needless to say, his words went completely over me. I saw the bright colors and a funny looking guy and proceeded to press some buttons. He walked to the right and the screen moved, so I just assumed that was it.

I walked into the first thing I saw. I can’t tell you what I was thinking, but I clearly had no perception of what an enemy was. My father then took the controller away from me, assuming I was an idiot (not in reality, I just got sad). I cried a bit, but I didn’t give up. I was entranced with this game.

24 years later, I’m still fond of Super Mario Bros. The fat, little, Italian plumber and I have basically grown up together. I’ve played all of the main Mario titles and a majority of the spin-offs. Seeing his face and hearing his voice is like comfort food to me.

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Some of the happiest memories I have are from Super Mario Bros. 3.My sister and I would trade turns for hours on end. The game seemed so incredibly massive and creative. Each world had something different about its design and the ability to store power-ups made challenging areas less painful.

Not only was the design more refined than previous entries, but having Luigi tag along and help progress just felt right. The original game basically mimicked an arcade machine by having each player make individual progress. Super Mario Bros. 3 felt like the first time cooperation was put into a game.

A few years after first picking up a controller, the Nintendo 64 was unleashed on the world. Being 8 years old at the time, I was completely floored. I couldn’t believe that we were moving into the third dimension so fast.

Nintendo was always the king of promo videos (their adds for Donkey Kong Country and StarFox 64 are ingrained in my mind), so I remember watching the Toys’R’Us video for Super Mario 64 about 100 times. I hung on every word the developers were mentioning. Mario was becoming more like a stuntman and a fighter. His moveset was expanding.

Not only his repertoire of attacks, but the world he was traversing was growing. Levels were becoming more vertically inclined. Mario could wall jump, ground pound and long jump; he felt like the crazy kid that I was. I was always loaded with energy, so I used to pretend I was Mario and jump around my backyard.

The wait for Christmas in 1996 was excruciating. Since I already figured out Santa wasn’t real, I knew my mother had the console in her bedroom. She hid that thing better than a drug lord dumps a corpse. I never even caught a glimpse of the box, despite her concealing it for 3 months.

When I did eventually get my hands on Super Mario 64, I felt like my life had changed. I was mesmerized by what I was playing. I couldn’t get my head around how such a game was made, let alone conceived. It felt like my world and video games were becoming one.

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The last time I felt such a way about Mario was with the release of Super Mario Galaxy. I wasn’t too big on Sunshine, but I played it and New Super Mario Bros. I had begun to gravitate more towards the spin-off games like Paper Mario and Mario Tennis, yet I had a feeling that Nintendo was slowly running out of ideas.

Super Mario Galaxy came out during my sophomore year of college. I went to school in Florida, away from my home in Connecticut and my Nintendo Wii, so I felt the sting of disappointment. I had to wait months to even try out the game, so I felt a bit empty. It didn’t help that my friends at school were jerks; I couldn’t seek comfort in the guy who had been with me my whole life.

There was a glimmer of hope, though! An online friend of mine who lived in Florida had just bought the game. He was willing to pick me up and have me stay the weekend. I was ecstatic. Not only did I get to hang out with one of my best friends, but I would finally get my hands on Super Mario Galaxy.

The opening cutscene that set up the story of Rosalina and the Lumas brought me to tears. It felt like Nintendo realized how cherished and special their mascot was. It was like they recognized the power this juggernaut of gaming had over the imagination.

The game was also thoroughly in love with Super Mario Bros. 3, something I attribute to Galaxy being the third 3D Mario game. I was sold; this felt like what I had been missing all those years. Platformers never really died down, but no one had made as creative and joyful a game as Nintendo did with Super Mario 64.

Galaxy pushed the limits of what could be done with 3D level design. It even utilized the Wii Remote in a method that didn’t feel so gimmicky. It had some challenge, an unlockable character (in the form of rising star, Luigi) and a truly incredible soundtrack.

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Since that day, Mario has been in some mediocre games and a few truly amazing ones. Nintendo just loves banking on nostalgia, a design philosophy that may potentially hold them back. When Nintendo EAD Tokyo is given the reigns, Mario is unlike anything else. The other teams kind of phone it in.

If the Mario series truly were to end, I wouldn’t mind capping it off with Super Mario Maker. Having the tools to create a brand new Mario adventure in my hands is something my younger self would have killed for. To have the kind of vibrancy and joy that my 8 year old self had would be overwhelming.

I’ve grown a bit cynical over the years, but Mario has always been there to bring the happiness back. He still has a zest for jumping and bouncing, even if his “love”, Princess Peach, is an airhead. How many times can one person really be captured?

Regardless, Nintendo isn’t going to let their mascot bow out. I won’t turn away from him, either. Until I can no longer physically hold a controller, Mario will always be a part of my life. To remove him would be like asking me to kill my childhood.

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Here’s to another 30 years!

Link Play

People love to claim that the Legend of Zelda series is basically the same game over and over again. While this is failing to take into account all of the handheld titles, even the main console entries have enough differences to differentiate themselves.

Still, Nintendo must have really taken that criticism to heart as the Legend of Zelda: Triforce Heroes is completely different from the classic Zelda mold. The game is more akin to Four Swords and not it’s Gamecube sequel.

While I enjoyed the game, I think it was mostly due to me being a die-hard Zelda fan. The singleplayer mode is hot trash and the weird requirement of three players kind of ruins local multiplayer with just a single buddy. Download Play is very generous, so at least you don’t have to have friends with copies of the game.

I can’t quite put my finger on why I may consider this the weakest Zelda game in the series. That isn’t to say anything is particularly bad about it, save for it’s netcode; I’m mostly just saying that nothing is quite original about it.

Since the game bears a huge resemblance to Four Swords, it’s easy to compare the two games. For starters, you progress through areas that are basically small rooms. There isn’t an overworld or any kind of dungeon exploration; you are placed in an area with some items and small puzzles.

“Puzzles”

Successfully completing the puzzle gets you to the next room and so on until a boss fight. It is fun, but it becomes pretty routine in a very short time. There are stylish touches like some graphical effects, 3D and great music, but without the costume changing mechanic, the game would be a bit dull.

Costumes are what define this Zelda experience. Changing to and fro makes for some great times. Having Link cross dress or putting on a replica of Marth’s outfit is well and good, but unlocking some of the more badass costumes (like Sword Master or Fierce Deity) can make replays and challenges trivial.

Four Swords was incredibly rudimentary in design. While having three friends help you through puzzles was a blast, all of it’s dungeons are randomly generated. At some point, you begin to see repeat room designs and immediately know the solution. I guess that takes awhile, but it also leads to a game that has no distinct or memorable moments.

That game got it’s fun out of being novel. The DSi re-release added some much needed content to spruce up the endgame, but it’s original state is a bit of a throwaway gimmick. Can Zelda multiplayer work? Four Swords said yes.

The sequel, Four Swords Adventures really went to town with the whole concept. You were required to have Gameboy Advance link cables for multiplayer, but each person could be exploring a small room on their own. Main puzzles had players taking divergent paths to find items and culminate in some grand solution.

Or a daring escape!

Everyone emerged from their GBAs and provided the steps necessary; Triforce Heroes doesn’t really have that. I can accept the lack of 4 players, but often times you can beat an entire room by yourself. It makes the concept of multiplayer feel like it was forced upon a different execution of the Zelda formula.

While online play should make up for lacking friends or having differing schedules, Triforce Heroes has some really unstable netcode. Seemingly perfect games can end suddenly for no reason and most people have no idea how to setup a WiFi connection; I’ve had lag so bad that my sword wouldn’t swing for 5 seconds after pressing the attack button.

At least with Four Swords and Four Swords Adventures, you had to be in the same room. It might have limited the chances most people had to play the game (not to mention the outlandish price required for such a feat), but the game worked at all times. Triforce Heroes sometimes fails at multiplayer while simultaneously failing at singleplayer.

The original Four Swords never even had a singleplayer component, but Four Swords Adventures allowed players to summon the extra Link’s in different formations. That kind of gameplay feels akin to some classic Bioware RPGs like Icewind Dale or Baldur’s Gate. Why the same type of mechanic wasn’t utilized in Triforce Heroes is beyond my comprehension.

Singleplayer has you tapping the bottom screen to switch between dopples of yourself. It makes for tedious progression; every time you get somewhere with one Link, you need to completely stop and redo it for another. The totem mechanic almost seems to come from frustration in solo play rather than any genuine multiplayer advantage.

There is also a rather limited method of communication for online play. You get emoticons that you can press which are supposed to tell other players what to do. They rarely work. There are no icons for “Do not use item” or “Stop”. You just have a generic “NO!!!” to warn players of anything wrong.

Where is the “Stop Dying” button?!

Trying to specify what needs to be done in a given situation to a totally clueless player is an exercise in frustration. You wouldn’t even believe how many times I ended up yelling at my 3DS when a solution came to me in seconds. To watch others shrug and bumble around like a doofus is maddening.

When everything does click into place, Triforce Heroes is fast and fun. I like that there is actual puzzle solving instead of just murdering enemies like in Four Swords. This feels like a compromise between the two previous multiplayer Zelda titles. It also has a vibe similar to Skyward Sword’s upgrades.

I also can’t stay mad at a Zelda game that calls back to the 2D gameplay from yesteryear. People love to worry about how Nintendo has basically forgotten “classic” Zelda, but they still make these games for us to enjoy. They never buried that tried and true game system.

If anything, I think Triforce Heroes has shown me that I just prefer to take my Zelda alone. To me (and a lot of people), Zelda has been about exploring a new world and conquering it’s many dungeons. It’s been about guiding Link through treacherous paths and perilous situations.

Traveling “literally” anywhere.

Sure, sharing that fun is great, but the real joy comes from figuring out a solution and putting it into action. Without the ability to verbalize that to a friend (or get them to read your mind), the game becomes an exercise in patience and insanity.

Having like minded players makes all the difference. With friends who actually understand Zelda (or being in the same room), you can accomplish what is being thrown at you. Local multiplayer saves the day yet again.

All in all, Triforce Heroes isn’t bad. I rather enjoy it. I just don’t know if I’d ever see myself playing through it again.Four Swords exists mostly as a way to kill time on long flights and Four Swords Adventures is an epic journey with friends.

Triforce Heroes kind of feels like a short trip to an amusement park. It’s fun while it lasts, but you really want to get home after you’ve had your fun. It also sucks to have to deal with people who lack common sense.

Yearning For The Past

Nintendo has made a habit of banking on nostalgia. For the past few years, nearly every single one of their games is firmly rooted in the past. Mario has been refining Super Mario Bros 3 since the New series launched on Wii and Super Smash Bros. is basically a celebration of everything old.

Yoshi’s Woolly World is, essentially, a touched up version of the classic Yoshi’s Island on SNES. Instead of falling head over heals, though, I find myself indifferent. Every chance I get to play the game, I end up bored after 8 levels.

That isn’t to say the game is bad; far from it, actually. It’s a well crafted and hyper polished adventure, but it lacks creativity. It lacks soul; there is no passion and the game coasts along at a lethargic pace.

Is that a bad thing? Honestly, I cannot answer that. For some, the deliberate speed of the game is what makes it enjoyable. My sister finds the game very captivating, despite being easy for her. She loves that nothing is thrown at the player that requires dexterity or mastery of the game mechanics.

As for me, I only seem to find entertainment in the graphics. The game is a sight to behold. Nintendo have truly gotten a grasp on HD graphics and I’m curious to see what the NX might bring to the table. That doesn’t dismiss how humdrum Woolly World is.

It sure is nice looking, though.

All of the cool concepts you remember from Island are in this game, minus Baby Mario. While a lot of people would call that a plus, it’s a huge detractor in my book. Baby Mario was annoying, sure, but he served a purpose; it gave you a goal.

You didn’t want Baby Mario crying because it would drive you up the wall. With him not being a factor, you tend to recklessly fly through the game with no concern for death. Yoshi changes from cautious guardian to senseless traveler.

It really doesn’t help that each boss encounter is phoned in. I haven’t seen a collection of enemies so meaningless in some time, but not a single boss battle in Woolly World is even remotely interesting. They all follow the well established 3-hit formula to a tee. Even the bosses with a cool theme (a shy guy frozen in ice) end up being boring slogs.

Mostly, I end up feeling sad. If I don’t like a game, I tend to get angry and a little rash, but Woolly World just makes me depressed. I want to enjoy it’s cute exterior and finely tuned mechanics, but I can’t sustain interest.

Level 5-6, titled “Up Shuttlethread Pass“, is what really brought this full circle. It’s theme song is immediately nostalgic and evocative while being entirely new. It sounds almost like it is being played on an old phonograph player; I basically picture the entire scene in black and white.

It makes me yearn for my youth. I remember powering up Yoshi’s Island for the first time in 1st grade, sitting in front of my 27-inch RCA CRT and being blown away at how different the game was from Super Mario World.

What was with SNES and sports themed enemies?

There once was a time when Nintendo was willing to take risks with their franchises. Nintendo EAD could have easily churned out another average Mario game and called it a day, but they decided to focus on his new sidekick.

In turn, the entire dynamic of the game changed. No longer was everything based on physicality and secrets; Yoshi had the ability to stock ammo and explore his world without a time limit.

Not wanting to entirely ditch power-ups, Nintendo created a whole new way to experience Mario’s various abilities; transformations. Yoshi was able to become a helicopter and a mole and see a completely unique aspect of the levels.

In addition to that, there were also puzzles involving rolling blocks, hidden coins, soft dirt platforms and fuzzy seeds that intoxicated Yoshi (somehow). It was unlike any game ever released at that point. It’s art style was also wonderfully realized and brought to life with imaginative music.

For a child 7 years old, it was fundamentally like looking into a new world. It grabbed me with it’s cartoony style and kept me hooked with it’s innovation. It expanded my mind to different gameplay; I now didn’t expect the same thing from Mario with each iteration.

Sadly, it seems Nintendo never fully realized what made Yoshi’s Island so special. Each new game has tried mixing up the visual style instead of expanding the mechanics. The closest we’ve ever gotten to a truly progressive sequel was Yoshi’s Island DS. That game worked because it kept the original foundation and tinkered with some changes.

The game feels weird on Wii U. I can’t understand the screens side by side.

Every other title, from the disappointing Yoshi’s Story right up to Yoshi’s New Island, have gone backwards in terms of progression. Instead of trying to find a new way for Yoshi to interact with his surroundings, Nintendo has relied on gimmicks. In New Island, Yoshi has giant eggs; in Woolly World, everything is made of yarn, etc.

Maybe the whole problem with the Yoshi series is that our youth keeps reminding us of how great the idea can be. When given something so different and so well done, it’s hard to ever repeat that success.

Mario has maintained popularity over the years for being so boldly different with each game, up until the New series started coming along. Now, Nintendo could only inject new life into the franchise by handing it over to the players (Super Mario Maker is awesome).

Could Yoshi be saved by the same gamble? I don’t believe so. Yoshi’s Island felt handcrafted and thought-out; not a single level repeats a mechanic to the same extent. Each new element may come out of nowhere, but doesn’t appear out of place stacked next to Yoshi’s repertoire of moves. Level design wasn’t the only aspect that made Yoshi’s Island, unlike how a Mario game can function solely from it’s arenas.

Whatever the cause, I just cannot enjoy Yoshi’s Woolly World. I may love my amiibos to death, but the game doesn’t do anything for me. Well, it does make me sad, but that’s not the best thing to say about a game.

Nintendo Preview: E3 Comes Home

E3 has increasingly become less relevant to the common gamer. The show was fantastic when the general public was allowed to attend, but now times are different. While gamers appreciate that journalists write back about their experiences, nothing beats getting hands-on time with a game.

Nintendo wanted to be different this year. Not only did it not hold a press conference, but it partnered with Best Buy to give the regular old gamers a taste of the E3 goodness. While my state isn’t exactly a sprawling metropolis, I still had to wait two hours in line to get my hands on these demos.

I can say this Nintendo experience is the closest I’ve been to an E3-like crowd. The people were friendly and genuinely excited to see Super Mario 3D World. We all cheered when someone succeeded and cried when others failed. It was fantastic.

This also gave me an opportunity to shed some of the doubt I saw from the Nintendo Direct stream. While I knew I’d be getting Mario regardless (stupid blind Nintendo fanboyism) when I wasn’t very optimistic from the videos.

Well, since this is a preview, why don’t I explain what I played?

Super Mario 3D World

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While I can’t claim this is the 3D Mario game we were all dreaming of, 3D World is very fun. The co-op is frustrating, but I suppose that is to be expected. The bubble mechanic from the New Super Mario Bros. games makes an appearance and you can now pop it yourself, so I guess co-op could be easier.

I didn’t get to use the Gamepad at the demo booth, but the Wii Remote controls were decent. Running in a 3D space with a D-pad sucks, but everything is smooth. There isn’t any mandatory pointer action, either. Just running and jumping with a flick acting as a spin-attack.

Getting another game with Peach is fantastic to me. It was also adorable to see a five-year-old come up and practically beg for Peach.  All the characters handle like their Super Mario Bros. 2 counterparts. Luigi and Peach are the obvious choices as they can float. 3D World is a lot faster than the 3DS game, so anyone who thought that game was sluggish won’t have the same complaint this time.

The level I got to play (6-3) had the map converge to one point where the four players had to enter a clear tube. This tube sends you straight forward and around some bends, of which you can control by holding up, down, left or right. The players needed to cooperate to get some keys and unlock a box to proceed. This felt almost like a mini Zelda puzzle and it was fun to see the platforming not be solely running and jumping.

The graphics were very solid. The colors popped and the subtle textures on Mario’s and Luigi’s jeans looked nice. Nothing was too realistic, but the colors were so rich that it just appeared glorious. The camera was a bit wonky, though. There are no controls to change it, either.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

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This was the game I was the most looking forward to. I love Donkey Kong Country Returns and thought it was one of the best platformers ever made. I guess striking lightning twice just wasn’t bound to happen.

I’m not sure if it was the graphics that did it, but nothing seemed entirely different. Obviously using the gamepad to control your characters is much nicer than the Wii Remote and waggle, but this game is eerily similar to the Wii game.

The animations are very smooth, though, and the game feels spot on. It runs smoothly and never drops in framerate. Your actions have immediate response and you can carry a few enemies, which leads to improved barrels to attack. Nothing screams HD, though, and I think this was a missed opportunity to sell the system on power.

You now have six hits until you die (other than in co-op where it is three per player). The Nintendo rep said he believes this to be a deliberate change in the game to make it slightly easier. I know the 3DS version had this as an option, so I think he may be confused.

The Nintendo rep did confirm to me that the game would have Wii U Pro Controller support along with the gamepad and Wii Remote control schemes. He wasn’t able to tell me if online co-op was available, but I wouldn’t hold my breath on that.

Mario Kart 8

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While I’ve enjoyed the Mario Kart series at different points in my life, the last two games did nothing for me. Mario Kart Wii is my second least favorite in the series and Mario Kart 7 is barely any better. I figured Nintendo had no gimmicks or creativity left for this series. It was also surprising when Sega nailed it with the Sonic racing games, making me question what could even come next.

Well, Mario Kart 8 plays very nicely. The gamepad can be tilted for steering or swapped on the fly to classic-style controls. There is also Wii U Pro Controller and Wii Remote schemes, so you never have to settle for any decided style of play.

The level designs are also very eye-catching. The zero-G sections look mindblowing with their bending of reality. The game flips upside down and you can ride on walls, all while tossing your weapons wherever you see fit.

Split-screen is also still an option and it works wonderfully in HD. Nintendo hasn’t packed the screen with a useless HUD or cluttered it with too many particle effects. The boxes are huge and offer plenty of real estate for players to see the action.

The graphics also run at an amazing 60 frames-per-second. This is on top of visual detail that looks like a storybook. I am genuinely surprised at how great-looking the game is and how well that translates to speed.

The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker HD

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My dream come true. I could honestly write that and that would be enough. Still, I will explain a bit.

In terms of game feel, nothing has changed. This plays pretty much like the GameCube version. The camera is a little weird, Link is very quick and the swordplay looks fantastic. The big draw is how the graphics have morphed and they look stunning.

The textures look even more cartoony than before. Link’s face is epic to behold in full HD. The particle effects mesmerize me now, almost to the point of distraction. The smoke clouds and dirt effects are beyond belief. I have no idea how Nintendo worked this kind of magic.

For some reason, though, I feel like the framerate is slower. I even mentioned this to the Nintendo rep, but he kept saying that it was running at 60 fps. I just don’t believe that. The game doesn’t have any laggy inputs, but it does appear to move slower.

The extra Wii U features didn’t really have time to shine in the demo. I noticed that the gamepad screen acts exactly like Ocarina of Time 3D did, so that is very awesome. Inventory is quick and easy to access and you can keep a constant map on the gamepad at all times.

As far was extra content goes, the Nintendo rep told me that everything is essentially the same. No new dungeons are going to be added and no dialog or music will be changed. You just get faster sailing and Miiverse integration directly in the game.

I couldn’t get the Nintendo Rep to confirm if Wii U Pro controller support was available or not. He just said that the demo only allowed for the gamepad, so I’m not sure what that could mean when the final build arrives.

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I love that Nintendo wasn’t content with just throwing up some videos online and expecting the general public to eat them up. Quite honestly, not getting hands-on time with Super Mario 3D World would have nearly dissuaded me from getting the game. This Best Buy experience was a wise decision for the Big N.

It also gave a poor guy like me a chance to feel like I was at E3. I’m always a bit jealous of the journalists who get to play these games and experience the glitz and glamour of the E3 floor. While Best Buy certainly isn’t as big, the Nintendo Experience was definitely very loud.

I urge anyone who is excited from this to get to Best Buy this Saturday. The store will be hosting the event from 1-5 PM. You can get a Luigi hat and flag for participating, too! Nothing beats free swag and early access.

The End of an Era

As the curtains closed on “Assassin’s Creed: Revelations” for me, one thing struck me; I really love Ezio. The stories of his games have gotten progressively more convoluted and incomprehensible, but he is such a shining example of a great character.

The man is flawed, but intelligent. He is willing to admit mistakes and learn from them. He was brash in his youth, but we’ve seen him grow to being wise and powerful. He is a masterful leader and excellent assassin. It’s touching to see his life close out.

The same goes for Altair, despite how annoying and underdeveloped he was in the first “Assassin’s Creed” game. Seeing the later parts of his life and coming to terms with knowing that he is gone was actually kind of difficult for me.

It’s shocking to deal with death. I’ve had to do it in the past for two family members and they’ve stirred me to my very core. Seeing them one day and then knowing they have faded forever is terrible. Not knowing the reason why or contemplating how just makes it worse.

I obviously knew Altair died, otherwise Ezio couldn’t exist. Ezio had to have passed at one point, too, as Desmond is the modern day equivalent of him. Still, just witnessing their final moments and knowing their ambitions make those scenes very poignant.

When Altair speaks with his family before finally saying goodbye, I just think of how my grandmother or aunt might have taken my final words to them. While Altair knew he was heading for death and his son probably could have guessed it, I never knew when my family was going to pass.

Soon at work, one of my co-workers will be leaving. I’ve only known her for the better part of a year, but just as I was getting friendlier, she is leaving. I’m not blaming her (as the matter is far more complex than just quitting), but I do wish I could hold onto the atmosphere we’ve cultivated.

Still, I’m hopeful for her future. My current job isn’t what you’d call a beacon of dreams. The company is mainly where people go to die, or distract themselves over the summer between classes. That I am there and toiling away just makes me remorseful of my past.

The two might not even be closely related in terms of severity or gravity, but losing anyone is just hard. As sad as it might seem, I really didn’t want to lose Ezio. Seeing a new Assassin’s Creed title with him might have been groan inducing, but it always left me hopeful for his charming demeanor.

The end of Altair and Ezio, though, gives me reason to believe in the future of Assassin’s Creed. I’m truly hoping Ubisoft is listening to the fans, because I do not want to see Desmond in any first-person style crap again.

What I feel is that we are moving on to something new and fresh. The few previews for “Assassin’s Creed III” show that combat is getting revamped and exploration seems to be in a massive open world. That’s about all I’ve read.

Still, life moves on. We can’t always hold onto the past, other than our memories. While I try to avoid being nostalgic and always attempt to look at things for what they are, maybe it’s time for me to employ some sympathy to my memories.

I’ve dwelled long enough on the passing of my grandmother and aunt. Reliving those moments I learned of their deaths hasn’t done me favors for the past two years. I know all the lessons associated with those events and it’s high time I applied them to my life.

Ezio’s final words echo within me. “When I was a young man, I had liberty, but I did not see it. I had time, but I did not know it. And I had love, but I did not feel it.” My life is essentially this.

So instead of repeating the mistakes of Ezio, I believe I shall change, It may not be soon or very noticeable, but it will occur. This is the end of era, both for me and for Assassin’s Creed. Here’s to the future!

Damn You, Nook!

Gaming is one of the most ultimate forms of relaxtion. Putting a game on helps you forget about your problems and the world around you. You’re transported into different worlds and take the role of heroes or villains and get to do whatever tickles your fancy.

For me, though, my personal favorite game to relax with is “Animal Crossing: Wild World.” While I may prefer Zelda or have a huge fondness for Metal Gear, neither franchise can compare with the tranquility and solitude that Animal Crossing provides.

The game gives you small tasks, but nothing that you can ever truly complete. You pay off loans on your house, help neighbors with fetch quests and collect fossils and bugs. It all sounds rather mundane, but that’s actually the whole glory of it.

It’s so damn amusing to travel through town and meet the different animal inhabitants. My personal favorite has to be Portia, the Dalmatian. Her perky attitude always kept me coming back for more.

When you spoke with your neighbors enough, sometimes they’d ask for nicknames or catchphrases. I constantly put in ridiculous words just to hear the animal gibberish language garble it up.

Anyone who’s played Animal Crossing will know of how dastardly Tom Nook is. That bastard hits you up for rent money all the time. The tasks you need to perform to pay him back often require you dig into your own pockets first, making the whole cycle of debt even more dramatic.


Damn you, Nook!

While previous entries existed, Wild World is what really drew me in. I used to love talking to my friend about how my town was blooming, but actually having him able to jump in with me and mess around was unparalleled. Not only that, but the DS version supported Online Play, something the Gamecube could never do.

Now I could finally come home from work, boot up my DS and grab my friend for a game. It was fantastic and it allowed me to take my town with anywhere and be connected at any time. It was so liberating to not have to be tied to a console.

My friend and I would often sit on AIM while playing just so we could chat. We’d make comments about how Nook was a bastard or plot how we could get every type of fruit in our village (something that requires more than 1 friend). It was a bonding experience that kept us friends for quite awhile.

What made it better, though, was my mother’s interest in the game. She saw me playing it one day and got herself a DS and a copy of the game to play with me. Her and I have traded fruits, fossils and items and played online numerous times while I was away at school.


Online MP is so sweet.

Our summers were punctuated with races to see who could snatch up a shark first. We even got my sister in on the action and found it hilarious when she was mauled by a scorpion. The three of us have never been closer and this game made it all happen.

Even without multiplayer or online, though, Animal Crossing is just so much damn fun. The idea shouldn’t be fun, but having a game world where I’m not required to do anything is great. I feel like I can just pop in the game and waste hours for no good reason, but still accomplish something.

Here’s hoping the 3DS version remains just as fun.