Retro Replay — Soulcalibur II (GameCube version) — Issue 41

Heart and soul of calibur

Some­times, when you’re the sequel to one of the great­est fight­ing games of all time, you need no intro­duc­tion and you’re allowed to have repeat praise heaped on your shoulders.

We pre­vi­ous­ly reviewed the PlaySta­tion 2 ver­sion of Soul­cal­ibur II in 4Q2010, yet here we are again talk­ing about it in glow­ing terms for the Game­Cube ver­sion. There isn’t much new to say oth­er than this port is just as beau­ti­ful as the PS2 version. 

With the addi­tion of Link to the cast for this ver­sion, the game is even bet­ter. Link fits right in with the pro­ceed­ings and man­ages to unbal­ance the game heav­i­ly in his favor. He’s the per­fect addi­tion, to be honest.

With a killer sound­track, beau­ti­ful graph­ics that hold up after 20 years, a deep sto­ry­line and supe­ri­or game­play to almost every­thing avail­able on the mar­ket at the time, Soul­cal­ibur II is a wor­thy suc­ces­sor in every way to one of the great­est fight­ing games ever made.

Mario Kart 8 (Wii U) — Issue 40

Mario Kart races back to form in Wii U edition

There comes a time in every Mario Kart fan’s life when you have to make a choice of whether you still love the series or if you don’t. I assume this, of course, because I have no idea if any­one still plays Mario Kart or not. I assume they do, and I just don’t know it. The series hit that fabled peak of ques­tion­abil­i­ty for me when Mario Kart Wii was released. GI wasn’t using a rat­ing scale when we reviewed it (editor’s note: This was reviewed in 3Q2008), but suf­fice to say it would not have received a good score. Mario Kart had a lot of work to redeem itself for me, a long­time lover of the series who start­ed in 1992. The lat­est orig­i­nal entry, Mario Kart 8, has made sig­nif­i­cant effort to pol­ish the series again.
Mario Kart, at its core, has always been about arcade rac­ing. There’s noth­ing real­is­tic about play­ing as var­i­ous Mario and oth­er gen­er­al Nin­ten­do char­ac­ters while romp­ing through var­i­ous Mush­room King­dom locales. It’s always been about the Mario charm expand­ed to fit with­in a palat­able dri­ving scheme that makes any­one a cham­pi­on go-kart enthu­si­ast. Mario Kart 8 does not shirk on this charm. If it’s a mem­o­rable Mario char­ac­ter, they’re prob­a­bly in this game. 
And, in a nod to the appeal of Nin­ten­do crossover and nos­tal­gia, there are new addi­tions from out­side the port­ly mus­ta­chioed plumber’s usu­al sus­pects: You can now play as Ani­mal Crossing’s Isabelle and The Leg­end of Zelda’s Link. While they don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly con­tribute any­thing new to the series, their pres­ence is enough to elic­it excite­ment because it means Nin­ten­do is final­ly open­ing Mario Kart up to the gen­er­al ros­ter. There is much to mine from, and if you’re ques­tion­ing any of this, look at the lead Smash Bros. has tak­en in this field.
Mario Kart has always been the sort of series that takes its his­to­ry seri­ous­ly. Entries after Mario Kart: Dou­ble Dash have begun ref­er­enc­ing the pre­vi­ous tracks of yore, some­times with var­ied results. Mario Kart 8 man­ages to gath­er a lot of stel­lar new tracks and some old that aren’t favorites but will suf­fice as entries. A lot of the old­er tracks are from more recent entries but make no mis­take — they are there for the pur­pose of draw­ing you in to remind you of the good times and then send you on your mer­ry way to try the new tracks. Tug­ging at my heart strings with a mod­ern SNES Rain­bow Road remake will get you every­where, though there are caveats to these remakes. 
While the tracks are great graph­i­cal­ly, the music is hit or miss. When I say I want a Rain­bow Road throw­back, I also want the orig­i­nal music to go with it. It doesn’t need a musi­cal over­haul because the orig­i­nal music was bril­liant. I’m not sure why Nin­ten­do thought it need­ed to have the sound remade, but it wasn’t a par­tic­u­lar­ly great deci­sion. Oth­er remas­tered stage choic­es, includ­ing Grum­ble Vol­cano and Music Park, are fine. And a lot of the new tracks are great; Drag­on Drift­way and Excite­bike Are­na are def­i­nite standouts.
Graph­i­cal­ly, the game looks amaz­ing. It’s the best-look­ing Mario Kart pro­duced yet. All the char­ac­ters look life-like, and the stages are incred­i­bly detailed. Even the water par­ti­cle effects look amaz­ing. There are times when there’s a brief lull in action that I can soak up the sur­round­ings, and I’m impressed by the Wii U’s under­stat­ed capa­bil­i­ty. Mario Kart 8 shows what the sys­tem could poten­tial­ly do. It’s a tes­ta­ment also to just how good Mario Kart looks in the mod­ern era.
Now, here’s where we may have some issues. I’m not fond of the AI rub­ber­band­ing, and I haven’t been a fan of it since the Mario Kart 64 days. We are a quar­ter of a cen­tu­ry grown up and past that, and we’re still hav­ing issues with last-minute vic­to­ries by the AI. This is a known issue at this point, yet it rears its ugly head still. Also, while a lot of the new tracks are cool — Excite­bike Are­na among the best of the bunch — there are some that do absolute­ly noth­ing for me. Track selec­tion is impor­tant, and this entry has dullards. Big Blue, for what­ev­er rea­son, keeps show­ing up in mod­ern catchall Nin­ten­do games, and it’s here, too. I’m not impressed with the track at all, and they could have come up with some­thing else. 
Also, while I love the Ani­mal Cross­ing track, it needs some­thing else than the series’ cute motif and catchy music. It’s your basic, run of the mill dri­ve around in a loop track, but it needs some­thing else to give it some pop. Same thing goes for the Hyrule track. It’s basic, too. What makes this worse is that the tracks are part of the DLC bun­dle for the game. If you’re ask­ing me to spend hard-earned mon­ey on extras, the extras need to be super spe­cial. I’m not get­ting that with those two tracks, specif­i­cal­ly. Thank­ful­ly, there are oth­er extras to be had that kind of make up for those.
Over­all, this is a sol­id entry in the Mario Kart sphere of influ­ence. This is the best entry in years, and it deserves some high praise for a lot of the things that it gets right. There’s always room for improve­ment, but the rac­ing king con­tin­ues to show why it’s the arcade rac­ing champ and why it con­tin­ues to rule the road of go-karting.

Mario Kart Tour — 4Q2020 issue

Mobile Mario Kart still stuck at start­ing line

Grow­ing up as a gamer, there was always a series I could count on to pro­vide a lot of enjoy­ment: Mario Kart. High qual­i­ty, fun rac­ing ensued as did a famil­iar­i­ty with the sys­tem that made up rac­ing in the Mush­room King­dom. But as time has marched on, there are dark clouds over the king­dom and it’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly Bowser’s fault for the fool­ish­ness for once; it’s Nintendo’s greed.

Mario Kart in mobile form has always been a safe bet for the Nin­ten­do rac­ing fan. Being able to race with your favorite Mario char­ac­ters and take it on the go? Where do I sign up? But Mario Kart Tour, the lat­est mobile prop­er­ty for the gam­ing giant, is not a fun tour … er, trip. It’s Mario Kart for the SNES dumb­ed and watered down with gatcha ele­ments tacked on for good measure.

Mario Kart Tour takes the usu­al Mario Kart for­mu­la and adds things like gatcha pulls to unlock spe­cial char­ac­ters, karts and glid­ers, usu­al­ly in the high-end cat­e­go­ry, as well as lev­el up your estab­lished ros­ter. The gatcha pulls are obnox­ious because it’s depen­dent on luck of the draw using real mon­ey to fund the pulls. The real mon­ey — that you’re pulling out of your wal­let — is spent in the form of rubies, which allow you to pull from pipes pos­si­bly con­tain­ing the high-end items in batch­es of one pull for five rubies or 10 pulls for 45 rubies. Though the rubies are mod­er­ate­ly priced, it’s the fact that you must buy the rubies or com­plete some­times ridicu­lous chal­lenges to get rubies that makes it beyond the pale.

And, just as infu­ri­at­ing­ly, there’s the character/kart/glider sys­tem that’s tied to the stages cho­sen for each tour. Each lev­el has three or four spe­cif­ic char­ac­ters that are favored on this track. Usu­al­ly, the char­ac­ters that are favored are the fla­vor of the tour; that is, a char­ac­ter or vari­a­tion cre­at­ed espe­cial­ly for the spe­cif­ic tour. As always, they are high-end and exceed­ing­ly hard to acquire. Because this is tied into the pipe pulls, it’s also a cash grab designed to pull in the most ded­i­cat­ed who have the most mon­ey and time to spend fid­dling around with a mobile game. These “whales,” as they are called in online cir­cles, keep this cash grab going and endorse this con­tin­ued behav­ior from Nin­ten­do, which, in all hon­esty, is atrocious.

In addi­tion to the tool-like sin­gle-play­er mode, there is the mul­ti­play­er mode from hell. I wish I could some­how con­vey the trash-like qual­i­ties of mul­ti­play­er in words, but I’m at a loss with­out get­ting an FCC fine for pro­fan­i­ty. The mul­ti­play­er plays like garbage and ignores any sort of mechan­ics that Tour attempts to cre­ate in the sin­gle-play­er cam­paign. It is utter chaos in every match and those lucky enough to do well have to be doing that with sheer luck. It can’t be from actu­al skill and good mechan­ics, because Tour is miss­ing the mark in both areas.

The mechan­ics, lack­ing in skill and refine­ment, are a seri­ous prob­lem. Now, I’m cog­nizant of the fact that this is a mobile game, so we’re not talk­ing pre­ci­sion like a main entry would have. How­ev­er, this is rough even for a mobile game. Often, drift­ing is dif­fi­cult and ultra mini-tur­bos are next to impos­si­ble. Giv­en that I’ve mas­tered the drift­ing fea­ture in Mario Kart with every entry start­ing from the Nin­ten­do 64 days, I shouldn’t have this much trou­ble main­tain­ing a drift. The com­bo sys­tem, while inter­est­ing and a great fea­ture, is not refined as well as it should be. There should be a meter that shows me the length of time between com­bo actions and how much time I have left if you’re going to tell me that I have a time lim­it on those actions. Some­times, com­bos drop inex­plic­a­bly, ruin­ing a run at a chal­lenge that requires a cer­tain number.

Equal­ly prob­lem­at­ic are the weapons sys­tem and the AI lev­el. I tend to race com­fort­ably on 100cc, but I will race on 150cc and 200cc (with a pur­chased Gold Pass) if I’m work­ing on improv­ing scores in the bi-week­ly ranked cups. In the months since I’ve begun play­ing, I’ve noticed the aggres­sion of the com­put­er-con­trolled karts steadi­ly creep­ing up, which is a prob­lem. It’s most­ly notice­able on the week­ly favored track, which quick­ly gets infu­ri­at­ing when you’re try­ing to main­tain a rank­ing and the com­put­er is hell bent on keep­ing you from achiev­ing this goal. The weapons sys­tem plays a large part in this because it’s near­ly impos­si­ble some­times to receive your character’s spe­cif­ic weapon or a fren­zy or even a use­ful fren­zy despite your char­ac­ter more than like­ly being a high level.

Also low­er­ing Tour’s fun fac­tor is the char­ac­ter sys­tem. As in oth­er games in the series, there are a vari­ety of char­ac­ters from the Mush­room King­dom and Nin­ten­do in gen­er­al that can be and have been added to the ros­ter. The sheer vari­ety is great but the need to unlock and pay for these vari­eties is the prob­lem. It’s greedy as hell that you have to buy rubies to pos­si­bly unlock a char­ac­ter to do well in the fea­tured tour track or mag­i­cal­ly come up with the ways to earn them, which are far and few in between. Basi­cal­ly, Nin­ten­do wants you to spend mon­ey and they’re not afraid to pimp out Mario Kart to achieve this goal, so they’ll nick­el and dime you constantly.

And I hope you love a lot of the tracks already pulled into Tour because track vari­ety is lack­ing. There are a lot of not-fun tracks that seem to be repeat­ed quite often. That decreas­es the enjoy­ment of rac­ing because you know you aren’t going to want to mess around with a cup that has an obnox­ious track (I’m glar­ing at you, 3DS Rain­bow Road).

Visu­al­ly, Tour is fine. It looks like Mario Kart and has all the ele­ments of the rac­ing god we’ve come to know and love. As a mat­ter of fact, the game looks like a bet­ter ver­sion of the Wii U’s Mario Kart 8, just below Mario Kart 8 Deluxe for the Switch. Those oft-repeat­ed tracks are gor­geous recre­ations of old faith­ful favorites from the SNES, Nin­ten­do 64 and Game Boy Advance titles with a few new cities of the world tracks thrown in the mix. In the begin­ning there were a lot of dif­fer­ent city tracks, but because of the pan­dem­ic, work on the tour has been kept to already estab­lished tracks from the series that can quick­ly be con­vert­ed for use in Tour.

Musi­cal­ly, Mario Kart is known as hav­ing a banger sound­track for every game. Tour doesn’t slouch in that depart­ment with the new tracks, but it does mess up with some of the old­er tracks. I’m not quite sure how a game can get one part of the sound­track right but mess up the oth­er parts, but Tour some­how man­ages to do it. Any of the new tracks that were cre­at­ed for Tour are excel­lent. The menu themes are excel­lent, as well, with new tunes mixed in with remixed favorites from pre­vi­ous games. But then you get to an old­er track, let’s say Koopa Troopa Beach from the SNES. It does not sound the same as the orig­i­nal ver­sion at all. The pitch sounds off by a few notes, as if some­one recre­at­ed it for Tour and kind of, sort of remem­bered the way the orig­i­nal sound­ed. Rain­bow Road from the SNES has the same prob­lem. It sort of resem­bles the orig­i­nal tunes but also … not real­ly. I’m not quite sure what I’m going to get from tour to tour, so I don’t nec­es­sar­i­ly get my hopes up in terms of music qual­i­ty when I see an old­er track announced.

All my prob­lems with Mario Kart Tour are fix­able, but that’s up to Nin­ten­do to work on and decide if it’s worth it this far in. With increas­ing fre­quen­cy, how­ev­er, I find myself say­ing this might be the part of the Tour that’s my last stop.

Naruto Clash of Ninja 2 — 3Q2020 issue

Retro Naru­to revis­its Chunin Exams arc

When it comes to the Naru­to video game fran­chise, com­pli­cat­ed con­cepts have nev­er been part of the equa­tion. There’s noth­ing remote­ly hard about any of the games under the ban­ner and almost all are known for their pick up and play abil­i­ty. So, it stands to rea­son that the Naru­to: Clash of Nin­ja series is easy to start and get into it, and that rea­son­ing is cor­rect. Clash of Nin­ja 2 con­tin­ues the acces­si­bil­i­ty that the series is known for.

Naru­to is a great long-run­ning starter series if you’re just get­ting into ani­me. The basic premise of the ani­me is the basis of Clash of Nin­ja as well: A strong-willed boy from a world of nin­jas strives to be the best he can be and one day become the leader of his vil­lage. Because of a dev­as­tat­ing attack on his vil­lage the night he was born, Naru­to is orphaned and ostra­cized by his fel­low vil­lagers while host­ing a crea­ture known as the Nine-tailed Fox. He grad­u­ates from his village’s acad­e­my and is placed on a team fea­tur­ing his crush Saku­ra and his rival Sasuke while learn­ing team­work and the ways of nin­jut­su. Clash of Nin­ja 2 fol­lows the first half of the series, with Naru­to work­ing with his team­mates through the Chunin (first lev­el) exams that the nin­ja acad­e­my grad­u­ates face.

Clash of Nin­ja 2 does an admirable telling the begin­ning part of the sto­ry of Naru­to, sto­ry-wise. Because the begin­ning of Naru­to is sim­ple to under­stand and fol­low, the punch of char­ac­ters and addi­tions aren’t over­whelm­ing, and it’s easy to keep up with the action and char­ac­ter moti­va­tion. Every­one is rec­og­niz­able from the ani­me and it’s easy enough to actu­al­ly fol­low the sto­ry and learn more about the ani­me with­out the filler that the series is known for.

Graph­i­cal­ly, Clash of Nin­ja looks just like the ani­me, which is a bonus in its favor. The game is gor­geous and bright, and it accom­plish­es the goal of mak­ing you feel like you’re play­ing the ani­me instead of a game. Like­wise, the music and voice act­ing are great and feel and sound like they were pulled direct­ly from the anime’s soundtrack.

Mov­ing around with­in Clash of Nin­ja 2 is a sol­id expe­ri­ence. It’s easy to pull off moves and com­bos, and coun­ters are easy to under­stand and get the hang of with a lit­tle prac­tice. My only prob­lem is that every­one seems to play the same way, so there’s not much vari­ety in the movesets. The char­ac­ter you choose is mere­ly cos­met­ic with the movesets and mechan­ics not chang­ing from char­ac­ter to char­ac­ter. Oth­er than that, the abil­i­ty to jump right in and get to work is a wel­come and refresh­ing change of pace in a cat­e­go­ry of gam­ing known for its some­times-chal­leng­ing mechanics.

Even though there have been more games released in the Clash of Nin­ja series and oth­er Naru­to fight­ing games added to its lengthy reper­toire, Clash of Nin­ja 2 is just where you need to start if you’re want­i­ng to get into fight­ing games and have a love for ani­me or Naru­to. With a wealth of modes, great visu­als and facil­i­tat­ed abil­i­ty to ease into game­play, this is one well-regard­ed ninja.

Wrath of the Black Manta — 2Q2019 issue

Nin­ja copy fails Black Manta

Peo­ple were appar­ent­ly wild about nin­jas in the ’80s. Real­ly wild. I’m guess­ing this because it seems to be a mil­lion and one games about nin­jas that were made in the 1980s. These were all made with var­i­ous degrees of suc­cess in get­ting the point across about the nin­ja expe­ri­ence. Out of the coterie there were two that stood out: Nin­ja Gaiden, a time­less clas­sic in the way of the nin­ja arts; and, Wrath of the Black Man­ta. Note that we did not use any sort of kind trib­ute for the lat­ter. There is myr­i­ad rea­sons for this distinction.

Wrath of the Black Man­ta is your stan­dard adven­ture game cen­tered on find­ing miss­ing chil­dren in New York City, the appar­ent bas­tion of all evil and where the most heinous crimes take place in the video game world. A drug fiend named El Toro is hell­bent on turn­ing these chil­dren into addicts and it’s up to you and your nin­ja skills to make Toro get down or lay down with the War on Drugs.™

The premise is run of the mill, the con­trols con­fus­ing and clunky and the action extreme­ly repet­i­tive. The back­grounds do change from lev­el to lev­el and there is a lot of ground to cov­er. But, all you’re going to do is walk around search­ing ware­hous­es for chil­dren and gang­ing up on infor­mants from the car­tel to get infor­ma­tion. What should be an absolute clean sweep is a clus­ter because get­ting that infor­ma­tion with­out being killed from ridicu­lous hits is a nightmare.

The fact that most of the action is ripped off from the infi­nite­ly bet­ter and more inter­est­ing Nin­ja Gaiden doesn’t help here because you’re going to die a lot from ter­ri­ble jump­ing and those afore­men­tioned hits from ene­mies. The sound­track also does Man­ta no favors as it’s just bare­ly ser­vice­able. Even the art is ripped off from some­where else: Word on those mean streets of NYC is that some of the art was tak­en straight from the book “How to Draw Comics the Mar­vel Way” when the Japan­ese ver­sion was port­ed to the U.S. I’m guess­ing they thought no one would notice, but it goes over with the sub­tle­ty of a ton of bricks. Speak­ing of a lack of sub­tle­ty, the obvi­ous “stay away from drugs, kids, if you want to live” mes­sage and the hit-you-over-the-head irony of char­ac­ters named Tiny (a in no way sur­pris­ing­ly large boss char­ac­ter who tries to stomp you to death in the first lev­el) means you’re in for a long ride with this whether you want to or not.

The key to this bat­tle is, if you want to play a nin­ja adven­ture just play the released at the same time Nin­ja Gaiden. Gaiden is far supe­ri­or in every way and has more appeal in terms of sto­ry. Wrath of the Black Man­ta is the poor man’s Nin­ja Gaiden and is in no way stealthy enough in its sub­tle­ty to earn any sort of title of nin­ja anything.

Cool Spot — 2Q2019 issue

A refresh­ing platformer

Every so often there will be a licensed game that’s actu­al­ly worth some­thing. It will have a great sound­track and decent con­trols and not be so obnox­ious­ly unplayable that legions of old­er gamers remem­ber it with a cer­tain hatred that burns deep with­in their soul to be passed down through gen­er­a­tions to come. Cool Spot, licensed from Pep­si part­ner 7UP, is the excep­tion to the norm. If you’re expect­ing a half-baked idea of plat­form­ing sole­ly because it’s a mas­cot, think again. This romp to release sen­tient lit­tle red dots is actu­al­ly not half bad and has genre-redeem­ing qualities.

Cool Spot starts off innocu­ous enough. Spot must res­cue its friends, who are trapped through­out 11 lev­els in cages. Why its friends are trapped, we’ll nev­er know but it’s up to Spot to res­cue them and lec­ture you about not drink­ing dark sodas. Spot’s tra­ver­sal through these 11 lev­els is noth­ing short of amaz­ing despite the ram­pant prod­uct place­ment. It’s sur­pris­ing­ly good, with sol­id con­trols that don’t make con­trol­ling Spot a chore, and com­pe­tent sim­ple mechan­ics that don’t get in the way: It’s most­ly jump­ing and shoot­ing mag­i­cal sparks at ene­mies and barred gates. The life sys­tem — hilar­i­ous­ly denot­ed by an ever-peel­ing and dete­ri­o­rat­ing pic­ture of Spot — is more than gen­er­ous and there are helper pow­er ups galore to get through lev­els. The lev­els them­selves have a lot of depth and are timed just right with enough time to explore or get the bare min­i­mum expe­ri­ence in the search for Spot’s miss­ing friend.

While Spot might be on a prod­uct place­ment-filled jour­ney, it’s a lush­ly drawn trip. Cool Spot is no slouch when it comes to the audio-visu­al depart­ment. The back­grounds are drawn with Spot mov­ing through an obvi­ous­ly human world at about 25 per­cent of the size of every­thing else. It isn’t big at all but the world sur­round­ing it is and it shows in the sheer scale, though my only gripe with the game comes here: The back­grounds, while beau­ti­ful, are recy­cled except for a few stages. At least the first three stages are repeat­ed and reused, just with new stage names and some recol­or­ing in spots.

While you’re soak­ing up the beau­ty of it all, how­ev­er, the sound­track is rock­ing in the back­ground. Cool Spot is one of the best sound­tracks for the Super Nin­ten­do and should be in every gamer’s library. Mag­nif­i­cent pro­duc­tion val­ues, crisp audio and nice, deep bass lines make for some inter­est­ing tracks that don’t sound like stan­dard 16-bit audio. Tom­my Tal­lari­co, pre-Video Games Live fame, put obvi­ous love and care into the audio and it shows. It’s one of the best sound­tracks for its time.

Cool Spot has a lot to offer in the way of good ’90s plat­form­ing. If you can work around the prod­uct place­ment and shilling for the 7Up brand, you’ll find an uncom­pli­cat­ed hop-and-bop with depth and a bang­ing sound­track that’s sur­pris­ing­ly refreshing.

Animal Crossing Pocket Camp — 2Q2019 issue

Camp­ing with friends

My love affair with Ani­mal Cross­ing began in 2003, a year after the Game­Cube ver­sion was released in the U.S. It wasn’t enough to mere­ly start a life with a char­ac­ter — known as Rubes(kitty) — in my pro­ce­du­ral­ly gen­er­at­ed town known as Tokyo; I had to col­lect every­thing in my cat­a­logue, build my house into a man­sion and catch every insect and fish just for com­ple­tion sake. In the ensu­ing 16 years, I have played every iter­a­tion of Ani­mal Cross­ing avail­able. So, you can imag­ine my pal­pa­ble joy when a mobile ver­sion of Ani­mal Cross­ing was announced in 2016. Cue Ani­mal Cross­ing: Pock­et Camp in 2017, and I’m still going strong in my quest to build the per­fect camp.

Pock­et Camp is a spin­off of the main Ani­mal Cross­ing series but retains ele­ments of the series. Famil­iar tasks such as pay­ing off your debt for your liv­ing quar­ters, com­plet­ing requests for ani­mals that vis­it or improv­ing your finances through item sales are abun­dant in the Pock­et Camp land­scape. New to the series is the timed rota­tion of the ani­mals that are in one of four loca­tions scat­tered around the land­scape. Four ani­mals will be in these loca­tions with options to talk to you and request items; whether you choose to give them the spe­cif­ic items they request or just chat it up for expe­ri­ence points is up to you. Also new are the afore­men­tioned expe­ri­ence points. Each ani­mal has a meter that gauges their friend­ship lev­el with you. The high­er the lev­el, the more rewards they give in exchange for items they request. The rewards are also new, usu­al­ly in the form of Leaf Tick­ets and raw mate­ri­als that are used in craft­ing fur­ni­ture and clothes that can be used to dec­o­rate your camp site and RV.

Pock­et Camp, in its most sim­plis­tic form, is a dumb­ed down portable Ani­mal Cross­ing main game that requires inven­to­ry man­age­ment and micro trans­ac­tions. And it’s a sat­is­fy­ing way to get that quick Ani­mal Cross­ing fix. Much like the main series, it’s relax­ing and fun to pop in and check with the camp site to see what’s hap­pen­ing, pick up some gifts or get involved in fes­ti­vals and events at my own leisure. Time is still mea­sured real­is­ti­cal­ly, and insects and fish are still viable at cer­tain times, though the sea­son require­ment is not in use. Mon­ey is still prac­ti­cal­ly around every cor­ner, and it’s eas­i­er than ever to pay off the debt of upgrad­ing your hum­ble abode when rare bugs and fish are more plen­ti­ful this time around. It’s also quite nice to be able to buy items from oth­er play­ers world­wide in an item mar­ket­place with the Mar­ket Box­es option. The econ­o­my that has devel­oped still has some work to do, but the abil­i­ty to find rare insects, fruit, shells and fish for sale from oth­er friends and strangers is a great start.

For a long­time Ani­mal Cross­ing play­er, the fun in Pock­et Camp is imme­di­ate­ly there but not with­out some caveats. After a cer­tain point, the in-game cur­ren­cy of Bells ceas­es to be a prob­lem. While scarce in the ear­ly going, Bells aren’t an issue once the final upgrade for the RV is obtained and paid off. I now reg­u­lar­ly have about 1.8 mil­lion Bells on hand dai­ly and can’t spend it fast enough on things oth­er than craft­ing and a rare item inven­to­ry econ­o­my that has con­ve­nient­ly sprung up in my friends list. This is like the issue of Bells in the main series so while it’s not sur­pris­ing, it’s still an issue that needs to be reme­died with more things to do. And, the price of Leaf Tick­ets is a bit much. Their addi­tion is help­ful, but their pric­ing should be adjust­ed. Also, in-game cur­ren­cy should be allowed to be used to buy Leaf Tick­ets. That would give anoth­er rea­son to hoard mon­ey lat­er in the game.

While it might not be a main­line game, Ani­mal Cross­ing: Pock­et Camp is still a neat and wel­come addi­tion to the Ani­mal Cross­ing fran­chise. With its con­tin­ued updates and addi­tions, the Ani­mal Cross­ing pop­u­la­tion is still growing.

1942 — 2Q2019 issue

Pacif­ic bat­tles fly in 8‑bit form

Capcom’s warfight­ing 1940 series reminds me of the good times when arcade gam­ing ruled my week­ends and I was for­tu­nate to find some rare gems that lat­er became gam­ing clas­sics. Dur­ing that time, I played 1942 in the arcade and on the NES and walked away from this expe­ri­ence with some valu­able infor­ma­tion: 1. The first game in a series may or may not guar­an­tee future suc­cess; and, 2. The cre­ators of some of our favorite games had to cut their teeth on low-tier games before they received the big breaks that made them what they are today. One of those games is 1942.

1942 is a ver­ti­cal-scrolling shoot­er that takes place on the Pacif­ic front of World War II. You take con­trol of a P‑38 Light­ning plane assigned to go to Tokyo and destroy the Impe­r­i­al Air Force fleet.

Game­play of 1942 is sim­ple: You can move either ver­ti­cal­ly or hor­i­zon­tal­ly. Con­sist­ing of 32 stages, the P‑38 will be chal­lenged by Ki-61s, A6M Zeros, and Ki-48s with a long-range bomber known as G8N as lev­el boss­es. To give the P‑38 Light­ning a fight­ing chance against these planes, it can do air rolls or ver­ti­cal loops. If you time your attacks right, some planes will drop upgrad­ed fire­pow­er or an escort team of two small­er fight­er planes to com­bat the relent­less assault from planes that WILL attempt to knock you out of the skies, espe­cial­ly if you’re just tak­ing off from your air­craft carrier.

While I liked 1942, there are some issues that annoyed me. Tim­ing of move­ments, includ­ing the ver­ti­cal drops and air rolls, must be pre­cise because of the high chance of being shot down by ene­my planes. Also, you must watch for attack­ing planes in front and behind as the Ki-48s are mas­ter­ful at get­ting the unsus­pect­ed into close-area shootouts, which will reduce the num­ber of lives quickly.

The music qual­i­ty of 1942 is an acquired taste as the repeat­ed use of a snare drum made me think that Cap­com phoned in a lack­lus­ter drum beat, which made me turn the vol­ume down to con­tin­ue play­ing. The chal­lenge is decent since you will be on your toes to avoid ene­my fire non­stop. It has strong replay val­ue and would be a great time-killer as a nos­tal­gia trip for arcade vet­er­ans. Also, it’s a great exam­ple for those who want to know how side-scrolling games played a major impact in the gam­ing world.

1942 serves not only as an icon in gaming’s hall of fame but also dou­bles as one of Capcom’s entries into the gam­ing world. It helps that 1942 was the start of look­ing at Cap­com as an up-and-com­ing game com­pa­ny want­i­ng to expand beyond its home of Osa­ka, Japan.

Fun facts:

    • The P‑38, Ki-61, A6M and Ki-48 were actu­al war planes used heav­i­ly in the Pacif­ic Con­flict between the U.S. and Japan. The com­pa­nies who built them — Lock­heed Mar­tin, Kawasa­ki, and Mit­subishi — are well-estab­lished in the defense indus­try and con­tin­ue to play vital roles in var­i­ous areas of aero­space technology.
    • 1942 was Yoshi­ki Okamoto’s debut game for Cap­com. He was also the orig­i­nal game design­er of Konami’s Gyruss. Because of inter­nal dis­putes involv­ing pay, he was fired from Kon­a­mi. After 1942’s suc­cess, Okamo­to remained at Cap­com where he played an impor­tant role in pro­duc­ing Final Fight, Street Fight­er II and Biohazard/Resident Evil. He retired from game devel­op­ment for con­soles in 2012 and is cur­rent­ly devel­op­ing games for var­i­ous mobile devices.

Animal Crossing: Amiibo Festival — 1Q2017 issue

Rolling the dice with Ani­mal Crossing

Judg­ing from the stand­point of an avid Ani­mal Cross­ing play­er and enthu­si­ast, the con­cept of new games com­ing into my beloved fran­chise is not always wel­come. There have been par­tic­u­lar­ly good games (i.e. Wild World, the orig­i­nal game) and mediocre offer­ings (Hap­py Home Design­er and City Folk). Ami­i­bo Fes­ti­val is a lit­tle bit of both: It’s a fun take on the Ani­mal Cross­ing uni­verse, but it needs a lit­tle bit of pol­ish and more things to do to keep the con­cept of a board game based on the fran­chise interesting.

I’ve always referred to Ani­mal Cross­ing as the series about doing noth­ing. Ami­i­bo Fes­ti­val takes that con­cept and turns it on its head. With Fes­ti­val, you’re tasked with mov­ing around a typ­i­cal Ani­mal Cross­ing town in the form of a large board game. The town is trans­formed by spaces that can be events, Stalk Mar­ket sale stops and vis­its from the usu­al assort­ment of guests that vis­it a nor­mal town in the franchise. 

What makes the game fun is the usage of all things Ani­mal Cross­ing. Game time is deter­mined by a cal­en­dar that uti­lizes events com­mon­ly found through­out the series, and vil­lagers that you would encounter in town show up to help out play­er char­ac­ters. The play­er char­ac­ters them­selves are Ami­i­bo fig­urines that you pur­chase and input into the game. For exam­ple, GI has about 25 Ami­i­bo, eight of which are Ani­mal Cross­ing relat­ed (Dig­by, Celeste, Isabelle, Vil­lager, Tom Nook, Mable, Rover and K.K. Slid­er) that can be used to play through a ses­sion. These char­ac­ters can col­lect points to unlock new out­fits and modes in the plaza based on game per­for­mance. The tie-in to the series ben­e­fits the oth­er­wise-tired Mario Par­ty for­mu­la and enhances the charm of what would prob­a­bly be a tire­some exer­cise in board game management.

Using some of that inher­ent charm of Ani­mal Cross­ing, Ami­i­bo Fes­ti­val plays well and looks great. There is a notable pas­tel sheen over every­thing in-game, but it still looks just like you’d expect Ani­mal Cross­ing to look: Bright, col­or­ful and smooth. Because we’re long past the janky block graph­ics of the orig­i­nal game, Ami­i­bo Fes­ti­val is clos­er in style to the lat­est game in the series, New Leaf, and it works in its favor. The sound­track is also in line with the New Leaf era and it’s ser­vi­ca­ble. It’s not the main fea­ture of the game, so I’m not expect­ing it to reach the realm of New Leaf’s great tracks, but it’s not unpleas­ant so it works just fine for what it’s asked to do.

My main com­plaint about Ami­i­bo Fes­ti­val, how­ev­er, has more to do with the pol­ish of the final prod­uct and some of the addi­tions. It feels as though there isn’t enough to do in-game, quite hon­est­ly. While the board game is fun, it’s not enough to keep me inter­est­ed long-term. The addi­tions in the plaza — mini-games that use Ani­mal Cross­ing ideas — are cute but get old quick­ly, and some are out­right frus­trat­ing, even for a long­time play­er like myself. 

The triv­ia sec­tion, for exam­ple, tests your knowl­edge of the series. Set­ting aside the fact that there shouldn’t be a time lim­it to answer ques­tions that test your prowess of a series that has at least sev­en games, the ques­tions are incred­i­bly obscure most of the time and require that you have ency­clo­pe­dic mem­o­ry and under­stand­ing of how the series works. Most peo­ple just look­ing for a fun board game aren’t going to know the answers, let alone know them quick­ly. I have been play­ing Ani­mal Cross­ing since the “Pop­u­la­tion grow­ing!” days of 2003, and I had trou­ble with quite a few of the ques­tions asked. There should be more to do, more inter­ac­tion with the town that you play in and more of an attempt to dig deep into that well of sev­en games.

Ami­i­bo Fes­ti­val is a unique take on a series that has man­aged to endure and improve over the past 15 years with new con­cepts and inno­va­tion. If there is some con­so­la­tion prize for stay­ing on this board, it’s know­ing that while it could use some pol­ish and flesh­ing out, Ami­i­bo Fes­ti­val is a good roll of the dice and gam­ble that paid off for the Ani­mal Cross­ing franchise.

Balloon Fight — 1Q2017 issue

Fruit­less bal­loon showdowns

The best thing I can pos­si­bly say about Bal­loon Fight is that it’s inno­v­a­tive for its con­cepts at the time. Oth­er than that, this isn’t a game I’d rec­om­mend to any­one beyond the age of 10 and even that’s push­ing it.

The premise is sim­ple: You play as the “Bal­loon Fight­er,” who is tasked with stay­ing alive and defeat­ing ene­mies in increas­ing­ly dif­fi­cult stages. Two bal­loons are attached to the Fight­er and to the ene­mies, and the Fight­er must pop their bal­loons while avoid­ing his own being popped and oth­er obsta­cles such as a large piran­ha, water and light­ning strikes. The Bal­loon Fight­er is fair­ly stout and stur­dy, see­ing as though he can take a lot of bump­ing and push­ing, but if he los­es his bal­loons, it’s a lost life. There are bonus games and a dif­fer­ent mode, Bal­loon Trip, that takes the Fight­er through an obsta­cle course to improve your rank and score. 

This is all fine and well, but the con­trols turn what should be a fun and sim­ple game into a night­mare and a chore to actu­al­ly con­trol. The Fight­er flaps his arms to stay afloat and even with both bal­loons still present, this is extra hard to do and main­tain. More often than not, I don’t lose bal­loons because an ene­my popped them; it’s because I land­ed in the water, was eat­en by the large fish or steered myself unwit­ting­ly into the light­ning I was des­per­ate­ly try­ing to avoid. Pre­ci­sion fly­ing this is not. To get a sense of what it’s like to con­trol the Fight­er, imag­ine if the hor­ri­ble Ice Climbers were fly­ing instead of jump­ing ter­ri­bly up a mountain. 

And while the game is bare­ly playable, the sound­track also man­ages to squeak by in pre­sen­ta­tion. It is a sad day when I declare that a sound­track from Metroid sound direc­tor Hip Tana­ka is irre­deemable. There is noth­ing that makes me want to lis­ten to this, and near­ly every­thing that Tana­ka has cre­at­ed gets high marks from me. The songs aren’t mem­o­rable, there are few songs there any­way, and the lack of var­ied sound effects is dis­con­cert­ing. Add the sound­track woes to an under­whelm­ing graph­i­cal palette and the game over­all is a mess.

Despite the pedi­gree of folks who worked on the game (i.e. Shigeru Miyamo­to as pro­duc­er, Metroid designer/director Yoshio Sakamo­to and Tana­ka), Bal­loon Fight couldn’t be fur­ther away from the qual­i­ty of Nin­ten­do clas­sics I want to play. Bal­loon Fight is rep­re­sen­ta­tive of an old­er era of games that required a Her­culean amount of patience, which I am not pre­pared to give in this day and age where bet­ter games are available.