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Review: Luigi’s Mansion

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I’ve heard that gamers consider Luigi’s Mansion to be a classic from the Nintendo GameCube era. Personally, I’d given it a try once before and didn’t get very far before I lost interest. But that was years ago, so why not try again?

Well, I tried, and I did end up enjoying it. It’s just not a game that I’d want to play over and over again.

Here’s the premise: Luigi, the lovable brother of the famous Super Mario, has just won a mansion. That sounds great, except that Luigi doesn’t recall entering a contest in the first place. When he arrives, he discovers that it’s filled with ghosts and that Mario’s trapped somewhere inside! Luckily, there’s a quirky old ghost hunter named Professor E. Gadd (I love that name) who equips our hero with a Poltergust 3000 that will suck up any attacking ghosts.

As he clears each room of ghosts with his new vacuum-weapon, it’s up to Luigi to figure out what happened to Mario and who’s responsible for trapping them in the mansion.

First, I love the music that plays throughout Luigi’s Mansion. It’s spooky and playful, so it fits the game well. It’s cute how Luigi will hum or whistle along as he walks through each room. He’s a great character; while he doesn’t speak much, he’s very expressive. Plus, you have to admire him for fighting off ghosts single-handedly, even when he’s clearly scared out of his mind, because he loves his brother that much.

In theory, the gameplay is simple: Luigi uses his magic vacuum to suck up ghosts. As he goes through the house, he’ll also uncover elements medals that let him use fire, water, and ice on the environment and special ghosts.

That’s all fine and good, except this means that Luigi’s Mansion centers on aiming in the right direction with the Poltergust and I cannot aim to save my life. It’s one of the reasons why I usually don’t play shooters, and why my weapon of choice in Bioshock was the wrench. Every time an arrow challenge comes up in a Zelda dungeon, I waste countless arrows trying to hit the target while groaning in agony. So that made Luigi’s Mansion more frustrating for me than fun. But if that’s something you’re good at, you’ll have no problem conquering Luigi’s Mansion.

Still, the longer I played, the more I found myself enjoying the game. It’s fun to search the house for ghosts. Some are Boos, some look like blobs with faces, and then there’s a special type: the Portrait Ghosts. Professor E. Gadd once had them trapped in paintings, until they escaped right before the start of the game. They each have a unique design and personality, though most of them aren’t hard to capture compared to regular ghosts.

It’s also worth mentioning that Luigi’s Mansion is a short game that you can complete within a couple of days, depending on how much time you spend on it. It only has four “areas” to unlock, plus the room of the final boss. Since I wasn’t extremely invested in the game, I didn’t mind its length. Others may find that aspect disappointing.

If you have a GameCube and you love Luigi, Luigi’s Mansion is a game worth playing. It’s not my favorite video game, but I don’t regret trying it out.

Thimbleweed Park: A Review

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Hey, do you like point and click adventures? Twin Peaks? Maniac Mansion? If you said yes to one of these, then this is a game for you! If not, try it anyway! Why? Well, let me tell you in this review.

CUE THE THEME SONG!

…Okay, I don’t have one since this is a written blog, but that would be cool…

Thimbleweed Park is a great point-and-click adventure. What is point-and-click? You use actions and mix it with people and objects on screen. For example, you click “use” and then click on a computer, then the character will say something like, “I don’t feel like using the computer today. It’s just gonna tell me more about the world ending. I have Fox News for that.” And it can lead to some vary funny dialogue and interactions.

Story
In 1987, there is a mysterious murder in a small town. FBI agents are there to solve the murder, and along the way, encounter a greater mystery, along with strange citizens and a lot of secrets. Granted, that premise is not original, but the way it is done makes it so good. The characters help to make this game wonderful. Also, it is confirmed that this is, in a way, a sequel to Maniac Mansion, complete with returning characters, settings, and plenty of Easter eggs. You don’t have to play Maniac Mansion to get all of the references, but if you have played it, (or watch a playthrough) you will get a lot more humor out of Thimbleweed Park.

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Characters
You end up controlling five characters throughout the game, and, wow, are they something. You have two FBI agents… or are they? They certainly have another reason to be on this case. There is a clown, a vulgar insult comic who once had a claim to fame but is now washed up. You have a game developer, who wants nothing more than to make games, to her family’s dismay. Finally, you have a ghost, a father who only wants to talk to his daughter one last time. Alongside these mains are a list of side characters, such as a sketchy sheriff/coroner/hotel clerk, “The Pigeon Brothers” which are two sisters dressed up as pigeons, ghosts, a town drunk, a guy in a pizza costume, and more!

Gameplay
It plays pretty well. This is a multi-platform game and it works well on the PC, but I ended up playing the Xbox One version. With that, it is weird at first for a point-and-click. However, when you figure out all the buttons and hints, you can easily adapt to it. Since it is a point-and-click game, it has a lot of puzzles. Fear not, for they have a in-game hint hotline that you can call. There is also 3000 numbers that you can call in the phonebook, which is weird for a game that only has 80 people living in the town. There is even a puzzle that makes you watch the Kickstarter video in order to solve a puzzle.

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Faults
The version I had seemed to have a lot of cut content from earlier games. Now, I am unsure if this was due to me playing on casual mode (don’t judge, it was my first time playing this type of game). However, when I looked at trailers and some let’s plays, there is something missing. There are parts to puzzles that are cut out and missing characters that I have seen in earlier gameplays. There is a whole location at a radio station that’s just completely gone, and you can see this in-game with items and locations what were meant for bigger puzzles. To me, that takes a lot of the fun out of this. The ending (spoilers at the end), though interesting, is a bit of a let down, depending how you look at it.

Overall
Thimbleweed Park is a solid game with tons of humor and 4th-wall-breaking jokes, nods and Easter eggs to prior point-and-click adventures, and solid characters. The music is really good for this type of game as well. It runs about 4-6 hours long, give or take the time for longer interactions. Overall, I give this a good 4/5 pixelated dead bodies. New or not to this genre of gaming, I say give this one a shot.

SPOILERS

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Review: Diddy Kong Racing

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When I’m not playing video games or writing, I can be found working at the library. Every other month or so, I like to combine my job with my interests by bringing all kinds of video game systems to the library for people to play. When that happens, I’m always amused by the way everyone gravitates towards Mario Kart.

It doesn’t matter which Nintendo systems I put out, whether it’s the brand-new Switch or the Super Nintendo. It doesn’t matter what games I include. Splatoon 2? Super Smash Bros. Melee? Anything from Legend of Zelda? Just Dance? Nah, Mario Kart 64, Double Dash, or Mario Kart 8 Deluxe will work just fine, thank you very much.

It makes perfect sense because the Mario Kart series is so much fun to play. It’s a game that you can enjoy whether you’re a hardcore or casual gamer. It’s more fun when you can race against one of your friends or family members, but I love it even when I’m playing by myself.

That said, Mario Kart isn’t my favorite racing game. That honor belongs to Diddy Kong Racing for the Nintendo 64. As kids, my brother and I, along with our friends, spent countless hours playing it. In Diddy Kong Racing, you have the option to choose from three different vehicles: car, hovercraft, or airplane. You’re also required to unlock racetracks in multiplayer mode by completing them in the single player adventure mode. But that’s less of an issue now, if you buy a used copy from your local retro game store with a preexisting save file.

Unlike Mario, Diddy Kong Racing has a story, albeit a very loose one. Diddy’s friend, Timber the Tiger, gets put in charge of his parents’ peaceful island. Unfortunately, a giant, evil pig called Wizpig arrives and conquers the island. Desperate to clear things up before his parents get home, Timber gathers up his friends to defeat Wizpig…by racing him. It makes no sense, but it’s just an excuse plot for racing. I do like that it’s there because it used to give me a feeling of accomplishment whenever my brother and I won enough races to unlock another part of the island.

Each track comes with extra items you can use to give your character a boost. They come in the form of balloons and they’re less random than Mario. Red balloons give you missiles, Blue gives you a speed boost, Green gives you obstacles to drop, Yellow gives you a shield, and Rainbow gives you a magnet that you can use to pull other racers behind you. Unless you’re in a tight spot, you’ll want to hold off using the balloons right away. Hitting a certain colored balloon two or three times will provide you with power-ups. For example, if you collect one red balloon, you’ll get one missile. If you collect two, your missile will have a higher accuracy. If you collect three reds, you’ll get ten missiles.

You’ll need all of the balloons you can find when you finish the regular racetracks. Diddy Kong Racing has four thematic “worlds” on the island: Dino Domain, Snowflake Mountain, Sherbet Island, and Dragon Forest. (After you’ve defeated Wizpig, you unlock a secret world with even more tracks.) Once you’ve completed the tracks that make up a particular world, you get to challenge the boss. And the bosses are definitely a challenge. They’re fast and they start running before you do. If you don’t hit every speed boost and enough red missile balloons, you’re doomed.

In addition to regular races, you can unlock different mini games in each world. My all-time favorite was Icicle Pyramid. It’s basically a family-friendly version of the Hunger Games. You and three other players get dropped into a pyramid course with a certain amount of lives. Using the Red missile balloons or the Green obstacle balloons, you have to try to take out everyone else before they kill you. My friends and I would often form alliances to knock off the computer AIs and then turn on each other. I was no Katniss Everdeen and often lost. But we all had a blast with it.

Diddy Kong Racing also has a fantastic soundtrack. Even if you’re struggling against Wizpig or one of the other bosses, the fast-paced music gets you pumped and ready to try again. Diddy Kong is bright and colorful as well. Although it’s obviously no Mario Kart 8, the graphics for this Nintendo 64 game still hold up.

I should also point out that Diddy Kong got a remake for the Nintendo DS. It’s okay, but I’m not a fan of it. They had to replace some of the characters, namely Banjo from Banjo Kazooie and Conker from Conker’s Bad Fur Day, and mini games like Icicle Pyramid can only be accessed by playing against a friend in multiplayer. So if you don’t know another person with a DS and a copy of the game, you’re out of luck.

(Fun fact: Speaking of Conker, he was my favorite racer in Diddy Kong. One day, I saw a game called Conker’s Bad Fur Day at the game store and got excited. A game starring that cute little squirrel that I loved? HOORAY! Thank God my innocent eleven-year-old self did not purchase it. I had no idea how much Conker’s personality had changed in that M-rated, South Park-esque game.)

So if you have a Nintendo 64 lying around, give Diddy Kong Racing a try! It’s a lot of fun and the bosses provide some serious challenges that you won’t necessarily find in other racing games.

…or you can play Mario Kart 64 instead. I won’t judge you. I’ll probably join you. It is Mario Kart, after all. 🙂

Review: Never Alone

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In 2014, Upper One Games and E-Line Media released Never Alone, a platformer based on the Iñupiat tale, “Kunuuksaayuka.” It is now playable on the PlayStation 3 & 4, Xbox One, Wii U, and PC, as well as iOS and Android devices. I downloaded the game on the PlayStation 4, so that is the version that I will review.

In Never Alone, an Iñupiaq girl named Nuna leaves her village to find out why her people have been suffering from terrible blizzards every day. An arctic fox comes to her aid, giving players the option to either switch between the two characters in Single Play or work together with a friend in Co-Op.

During their journey, they face a hungry polar bear, gusts of freezing wind, spirits from the Northern Lights that try to capture them, and a terrible man who’s been destroying villages to find a bola…the same weapon that Nuna’s been using to clear obstacles. Uh-oh.

Never Alone is an important game because it was made in tandem with the Iñupiat people. As you progress through each level, you unlock short videos called “Cultural Insights,” and you can pause the game at any time to view them. They were made to teach players about the Iñupiat people’s culture and way of life. These mini-documentaries allow one to gain a better understanding of the characters and themes found in the game. It’s a fun way to learn more about an underrepresented group of people through their own voices. I hope they have the opportunity to make more games like Never Alone.

In the game itself, Nuna and Fox each have unique skills that make them essential to the adventure. You can’t simply use one and ignore the other. Fox can climb walls and call spirits to help Nuna. She uses her bola to break apart icicles and burning sticks that block their path. I did not try out the multiplayer mode with a friend, but I imagine this allows for fun cooperative play.

As it is, I found single player mode manageable, though it could become frustrating at times. When using friendly spirit helpers to bring Nuna safely from one point to the other, Fox needs to stay close or the spirit will fade away. This wasn’t a reoccurring issue throughout the game, yet there were a few instances where Fox drifted too far away and Nuna fell. If I’d had a friend controlling Fox, this wouldn’t have been an issue at all.

With that said, the game can get aggravating at times. Initially, I shrugged it off because I didn’t grow up playing the side-scrolling platformers on the NES, SNES, or Sega Genesis. I’m only just getting interested in those types of games now.  However, there were moments during my playthrough of Never Alone when I could’ve sworn I’d timed it right, and Nuna seemed to land a jump on to the back of a Spirit, only to hang in midair without catching hold and then falling to her death. I couldn’t tell you how I eventually succeeded and got her to stick the landing. I think it had to do with where Fox moved the Spirit, but there was so much delicate back-and-forth involved that I don’t know exactly.

You will always feel bad when either Nuna or Fox dies, because every time it happens, the camera focuses on the other one crying and falling to the ground in grief. But this also allows you to feel the strong bond between the two of them, given that neither character talks. Instead, narrator James Mumiġan Nageak tells the story in the Iñupiaq language as you play, with English subtitles at the bottom of the screen.

Never Alone looks and sounds absolutely gorgeous. Those are easily the best aspects of the game. I enjoyed the quiet, haunting main theme. With Nuna and Fox often exploring the harsh environment with no one else around to help them, a big, dramatic arrangement with a full orchestra would have felt out of place in this story. The music’s there just enough to enhance the experience without feeling intrusive.

And there’s such a beautiful world to explore, from floating ice on the ocean to the ruins of a village with the eerie spirits from the Northern Lights trying to catch Nuna. I would love it if Upper One Games could make something in the style of Final Fantasy or The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild, a wide-open, exploration adventure based on other legends from First Nation cultures, with more characters, side-quests, etc. Based on what I’ve seen in Never Alone, that would be amazing.

Never Alone is currently available to purchase on the PlayStation Network at a discounted price for $4.99 until January 16th.  Although it is a short game, it’s worth checking out to support the work of the Iñupiat people.

Review: Ace Attorney Trilogy

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Written by Iris the Keyblade Master

If you’re looking for a video game that’s not too difficult to play (at least not in the way that video games usually are), has an engrossing story, and phenomenal character development, you can’t find much better than the original Ace Attorney trilogy.  Originally released in America for the Nintendo DS, all three games can now be purchased as a collection from the Nintendo eStore for the 3DS.

As the title implies, the main character’s a defense attorney, named Phoenix Wright.  He’s driven by a need to defend innocent people, even and especially when nobody else believes in their innocence.

Each game gets broken down into a number of episodes.  The first episode is always a brief one-day trial that acts as the tutorial.  The others switch back and forth between Investigation modes and Trial modes.  Phoenix will learn about a person who’s been accused of murder and all of the circumstantial evidence stacked against said person.  Then you spend the first day gathering clues, questioning other characters, etc.  Once you’ve found everything that you can possibly find, the game moves on to the second day: the actual trial.  You must badger every witness that comes to the stand and use the clues to point out contradictions in their testimony.

But Phoenix will never have enough evidence to determine the real murderer, so that leads to another day of investigating.  Then it’s time for the second and final day of the trial!

The characters are what make these games so much fun.  Phoenix and his plucky assistant, Maya Fey, play off well with one another as you lead them to different areas to search for evidence.  They’ve always got to deal with Detective Gumshoe, who isn’t the smartest man on the police force, but means well.  The same could be said for the judge, who’s willing to swallow the weakest excuses from lying witnesses.  Each of the suspects has a quirk that can range from amusing to annoying.  Phoenix’ exasperated reactions to the antics of the rest of the cast are always funny.

And finally, there are the prosecutors.  They bring so much joy for all of the grief they heap on poor Phoenix.  The first game introduces Miles Edgeworth, Phoenix’s former best friend who turned into his biggest rival.  I couldn’t stand his ego at first.  He’s the first opponent to really get under the player’s skin with the way he just casually dismantles every argument you present.  However, his character development throughout each game turned out to be so good that he ended up becoming one of my favorite fictional characters ever. 

The second game presents Franziska von Karma, a female prosecuting prodigy who starts whipping anyone and everyone who gets in her way.  I’m not talking figuratively here.  She actually uses a bullwhip on everyone.  That includes Phoenix and the judge.  Somehow she gets away with it every single time.

Last but not least, the third game’s prosecutor, Godot, has a fearless attitude, a great backstory with ties to Phoenix’ past, and likes throwing his coffee mug at Phoenix when he gets annoyed.  Yeah, this game can get wacky.

I loved solving each of the cases.  Sometimes the developers really give your brain a workout as you try to find the lie in a witness’ testimony.  In the first game, you get five chances to make a mistake, and once you use them up, it’s game over.  The sequels replaced this system with a health bar.  It will decrease depending on how many mistakes you make and the gravity of those mistakes.  It’s a toss-up regarding which one I prefer.

Although the games tend to be silly, they do have serious moments- after all; the objective is to catch a murderer.  Each game’s final case is an emotional rollercoaster for Phoenix and his friends, and those last murderers are particularly ruthless.  I won’t say any more to avoid some very good spoilers.  I’ll just say that “Turnabout Goodbyes,” “Farewell, My Turnabout” and “Bridge to the Turnabout” are my favorite cases in the whole series.  The music theme that plays when Phoenix uncovers the killer in “Farewell, My Turnabout” gives me chills.

Finally, the series has some excellent female characters: heroes, villains, and everything in-between.  Besides Franziska von Karma and Maya Fey, there’s her older sister, Mia Fey, a defense attorney who mentored Phoenix and gives him advice on his cases.  They have an adorable little cousin named Pearl who tags along with Phoenix and Maya, and never falls into the “annoying child sidekick” trap.  Wendy Oldbag, Adrian Andrews, Dahlia Hawthorne, and Iris are all memorable suspects for different reasons.   Unfortunately, I can’t go into more detail because I’d have to spoil so much of the story.

Good stories and puzzles, well-written characters, a fun, catchy soundtrack, and constant courtroom shenanigans- what’s not to love?  The evidence clearly indicates that you should give Ace Attorney a try as soon as possible!

Review: Theatrhythm Final Fantasy: Curtain Call

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Written by Iris the Keyblade Master

The Theatrhythm Final Fantasy games celebrate one of the best aspects of the series: the music.  Both rhythm games are available for the Nintendo 3DS.  Although if you’re interested in giving Theatrhythm a try, don’t waste your money purchasing both of them.  The sequel, Curtain Call, has all of the same songs and lots more.

I debated with myself about whether to get the original Theatrhythm when it was first released on the Nintendo 3DS.   Having gotten booed out of levels of Guitar Hero and Dance Dance Revolution, and surviving the infamous Little Mermaid sidequest in Kingdom Hearts 2…my experiences with rhythm games weren’t very good ones.  But someone at GameStop encouraged me to give it a try, and that’s how I ended up losing countless hours of my life to this game.  I have no regrets.

The gameplay’s divided into three types of stages: Field, Battle, and Event.  Field songs consist of tracks like “Terra’s Theme” from Final Fantasy VI, the main theme from VII, and “A Place to Call Home” from IX.  An adorable chibi Final Fantasy character of your choosing strolls along a path to the music, while you try to hit as many notes correctly as possible.  Although the notes can come across the screen quickly, depending on the song and the difficulty level, Field Stages are generally slower in pace than their Battle counterparts.

In Battle, you create a party of four chibi characters who fight different monsters and villains who have appeared throughout the Final Fantasy series.  When you hit the right notes, their attacks are successful.  If you miss a note, they lose health.  (This actually applies to the Field and Event stages too, except you’re not attacking anything. You’re just trying to keep the character’s health bar full.)  The songs you can choose from include the always classic “One-Winged Angel,” as well as “Dancing Mad,” “The Man With the Machine Gun,” and “Battle on the Big Bridge.”

Last, but not least, we have the Event stages.  These stages were more prevalent in the original game, because every entry from the series had one.  In Curtain Call, all of the songs that originally appeared as Event stages got turned into Field or Battle stages instead.  It’s a shame, because even if they’re difficult to play, they’re beautiful to watch.  Instead of battling enemies or walking through a field, you watch a video that highlights the most memorable moments from the featured Final Fantasy game.  The selected songs are popular themes from the game that people tend to think about when they think of that particular entry, i.e. “Sutaki da ne,” “Aerith’s Theme,” and “Answers” from Final Fantasy XIV.  The best, by far, appears in Curtain Call.  It’s a gorgeous medley of Final Fantasy themes played over highlights from the entire franchise.  If you’re a fan of any Final Fantasy games, I dare you not to cry while watching it.

It’s worth mentioning that the way you progress through the game changed in a few significant ways from the first Theatrhythm to Curtain Call.  In the original game, you could select any of the main musical stages for each of the games featured in Theatrhythm, from the original Final Fantasy to XIII.  However, once you committed yourself to one of the entries, i.e. Final Fantasy IX, you had to play through all three musical stages before being allowed to go back and play whichever one you wanted.

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Game Review: Randal’s Monday

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Game Review: Randal’s Monday

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Daedalic has a winner here with Randal’s Monday, a point-and-click adventure game currently available on Steam. The humor is crass, vulgar, and full of nostalgia.  Randal is a kleptomaniac douche who swipes his buddy’s wallet and the engagement ring within.

The bad news, for Randal, is the ring is cursed. What follows is a time-loop scenario with a slight twist: whatever Randal changes stays changed and alters the space-time continuum wreaking havoc on reality.

The dialogue is all spoken, sometimes though with a speed that left me frantically clicking to advance it. The artwork is decent with many hidden Easter-eggs to well known fandoms. There’s even a sci-fi convention, and a guest star (voiced by the actual actor, if my ears are correct) who has slightly more than a cameo in the tribulations of Randal.

8/10 paws