Friday, August 29, 2008

Wii Music: A step in the right direction

Sorry this is so short. The power kept flickering on and off, so I gotta make it quick.

Most people are upset at the direction in which Wii Music is headed. No penalty for playing badly? No scores? What is this? My answer: It's perfect.

Wii Music just looks like a whole load of fun to me, and really, isn't that what games are all about? If Wii Music's delivery is just random instrument playing however you want with loose suggestions, then that's fine by me! I'd much rather pay $50 or less for this game and have 60+ instruments than pay thousands of dollars to have all of those instruments for real.

Also, I don't mind how simple the game is. In fact, I love that! So many of the modern games are too complex for my parents to join in on, and something fun and simple like Wii Music will allow us all to get in on the fun and have a cool little jam session.

So sure, Wii Music isn't anything like a new Super Mario or Zelda, but it still looks like a lot of fun. It was never meant to compete with the games like Rock Band or Guitar Hero, and I'm happy for that. Shigeru Miyamoto calling it a toy actually made me realize how amazing Wii Music truly is, blurring the line between videogames and toys.

Fun is fun, no matter the delivery. Wii Music is sure to be a blast when it comes out, and I'll have one heck of a time jamming out on my invisible saxophone. That may not be your thing, but to me, it sounds like a whole load of fun.

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Thursday, August 28, 2008

A shocking realization regarding Birdo

I know this hardly qualifies as an update, but this had to be said.

When most people talk about Birdo, the main topic of discussion is what gender "it" is. Considering recent developments, though, I'm now even less sure than ever. I used to be fairly certain that Birdo was a cross-dressing male. Now, though, things have gotten a little... Disgusting.

According to the game Captain Rainbow, Birdo has a device beneath its pillow that vibrates and emits a buzzing sound. Anyone with a mind as filthy as mine knows exactly what this is. This almost certainly means Birdo is, indeed, a female.

But that raises one concern: In Birdo's first appearance in Super Mario Bros. 2, she spits eggs at the player. Now, most animals birth or lay eggs via their reproductive organs. But, that would mean that on Birdo's face is, indeed... Well, a fully-functioning vagina.

Yes, that's right. For all these years Nintendo has had a character parading about with her lady parts out in the open for all to see, spitting eggs out of it like she's some sort of demented vending machine.

And you thought Nintendo was kiddy.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Ideas for the Wii MotionPlus

So, we've known of the Wii MotionPlus for over a month now. So far, the only revealed uses for it are Frisbee throwing, sword-fighting and steering a Jet Ski. Of course, we all know the MotionPlus is capable of so much more than this, and people have been endlessly thinking up more applications since day one. I've thought up a few of my own, and here they are.

First off, I think that handwriting recognition could take on a whole new meaning with Wii MotionPlus. Imagine holding the Wii remote in your hand like an over-sized pen, and then "writing" your name as if there were a piece of paper on a table in front of you. I'm sure some interesting uses for this could be thought up, but I'm stumped. Hey, I got the idea this far, I'll let the developers take care of the rest!

Next, I could see the Wii remote becoming a skipping rope in a future fitness title or mini-game compilation. With the added sensitivity of the MotionPlus, I'm sure the Wii could easily determine both the location and movement of a Wii remote held at one's waist and pointed outwards. Simple rotations just like that of a real skipping rope, with actual jumps at the right time. Why this would be used instead of a real, inexpensive skipping rope I'm not sure, but that didn't stop similar ideas from coming to fruition (See Jenga: World Tour).

How about using the Wii remote as a lasso? I could see this being a really interesting game mechanic if used the right way. Just hold the Wii remote pointing up and swing it around like you would a real lasso rope (Or "lariat", if you want to be fancy), and pitch it forward to try and catch something. The MotionPlus could pick up on every subtlety of the player's motion, making the lasso spin differently every time. Real rodeo stars would have no problem figuring this out, and it could even serve as a training of sorts for rookies. Of course, it could also just be part of a horseback videogame, but that's not quite as interesting, now, is it?

What if the Wii remote became a set of tools? Screwdriver, hammer, saw, ratchet, and more. Just hold the remote like the current tool, and twist, spin and whack away. Just imagine a whole virtual workshop at your fingertips, allowing you to build anything you want without the matter of money becoming an issue. I can picture the entire game being nothing but building a house any way you want, with stairs, walls and windows placed according to your will. The end result would be a house all your own design, whether it be a quaint little home or a sprawling mansion. Certainly an idea worth pursuing.

So then, that's a small sampling of ideas for utilizing the Wii MotionPlus. They'd all be a whole lot better if I could handle such high levels of awesome, but that is not the case. So! Good night.

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Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Achievements for real life

People go nuts trying to get all the achievements in XBox Live and Steam. Really, though, who can blame them? Achievements are like a badge saying "I'm awesome because I did this". Well, what if life were the same way? Can you imagine some of the crazy achievements we'd get from day-to-day life, and the crazy grind-fests that would evolve from them? Here are just a few achievements I've thought up in my spare time, all of which would surely bring civilization to a halt if they were to materialize.

Where's The Beef? - Eat the world's largest hamburger
Numa Numa - Get 1,000,000 views on a Youtube video made by you
Taking The Plunge - Successfully unclog three toilets at the local gas station
Road Rage - Obtain and subsequently lose your driver's license in a high-speed police chase
Look Ma, No Life! - Amass a collection of 1000 or more comic books
Going Nowhere Fast - Argue about which video game console is better for a solid two hours
Election Time - Vote for the presidential candidate that ends up losing (You know the one I mean)
I'm Special - Start your own blog
LEGO My Ego - Build a life-sized statue of yourself out of LEGO blocks
You Idiot - Reenact a stunt from Jackass
Hey, It Works! - Pull the "hand in warm water" trick on an unsuspecting victim
The Cake Is A Bore - Make it all the way through a meme's height of popularity without ever taking part in it
Splorf - Make up a word that later is added to the English dictionary
Took You Long Enough - Realize that "penultimate" is not another way of saying "ultimate"
Benny Lava - Learn all the words to a foreign language song, then sing it without error
All-Nighter - Play an entire game of Risk from start to end with no breaks
Speed Run - Beat Super Mario Bros. in under ten minutes
I'm So Unique - Make a video game-based webcomic
Germination - Sit directly on a public toilet
Gotta Catch 'Em All - Contract every disease known to man
Dutch Boy - Shave your head and paint it blue, then walk down the street
Physics Major - Balance a spoon on your nose
Can't Sleep, Clown'll Eat Me - Stay up for 48 straight hours
RollerCoaster Tycoon - Ride every roller coaster on Earth. Twice.
Somewhat Notable - Get your name in the Guinness Book of World Records
Do The Nasty - Well, you know
Chris Houlihan - Have your name immortalized by winning a major contest
Maturity - Resist the urge to make a suggestively-shaped creature in Spore
CSI - Figure out the murderer in a crime TV show within the first five minutes
Poker Face - Go skydiving, and don't scream once the whole way down
Now You're Thinking With Portholes - Make a terrible pun about ocean faring and video games at the same time
Readers Digest - Eat the entirety of the Encyclopædia Britannica
The One That Didn't Get Away - Catch a fish that's thiiiiiiiiiiis big
Totally Not The First To Do This - Make a list of fake achievements
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Monday, August 25, 2008

Poll #54: "What do you think of Nintendo's upcoming Wii releases?" results, no banner

"Plenty of games for me" 4 votes (14%)
"I can deal with this" 7 votes (25%)
"Not too happy..." 8 votes (28%)
"Not enough games, stranger." 9 votes (32%)
"I don't know" 0 votes (0%)

Well, can't say that I'm surprised. As for what we know of, Nintendo's upcoming Wii releases are pretty sad. I just hope they have a few games they just aren't talking about.

So... No new banner this week. Nope, couldn't think of a single banner that didn't suck in the end. Sorry! If you want to, you can always submit a banner to me in this thread, or just send it to me via the e-mail listed in the sidebar. Just make sure to follow the parameters in the thread!

This week's poll question is "One Duck's Opinion now features PC-related articles. What do you think?". I really want to make sure I didn't peeve anyone off with the change. Also, for fairness' sake, I won't be voting. Just wouldn't seem right if I did.

New article will be up later tonight!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Team Fortress 2 review

Alright, here's the first of the new PC-related articles. I hope those of you who came here for the Nintendo stick around for the PC.

Developer: Valve
Publisher: Valve
Release Date: October 10th, 2007
ESRB Rating: M for Mature 17+
ESRB Notes: Blood and Gore, Intense Violence
Also Available For: Playstation 3 and XBox 360

The world of Team Fortress began in 1996 with the Quake modification of the same name. A huge hit, it was later upgraded and adapted in Team Fortress Classic in 1999. That's as far as the franchise would be going for a long time, though. While Team Fortress 2 was revealed the same year Team Fortress Classic was released, it wouldn't be released until eight years later. As of today, the game has been on the market for ten months, and players have been going nuts for it, myself included. I hope this review will make you understand just why I love this game so much.

Team Fortress 2 is a team-based online first-person shooter. It has absolutely no single player mode of any kind, instead being nothing but online matches. Being team based, success relies heavily on working as a group and not an individual. Making teamwork even more essential are the various strengths and weaknesses of Team Fortress 2's nine distinct classes. The classes are as follows (In alphabetical order):

Demoman: A black, Scottish cyclops, the Demoman specializes in explosives. His grenades are on a short timer, and will explode either when time runs out or if they hit an enemy after being launched. The sticky bombs can be placed and detonated remotely, blowing enemies to pieces. Finally, his melee weapon, the bottle, delivers both crushing blows and refreshing beverages. Detonating sticky bombs beneath his feet sends the Demoman flying, allowing him to reach high ledges for a better view of the action.

Engineer: A good ol' boy from the big state of Texas, the Engineer's known for building complex machines in seconds. His sentry gun can shoot down enemies with ease, and his dispenser supplies allies with both health and ammunition. His amazing teleporter can instantly warp friendly units from place to place, but only if both an entrance and exit are constructed. He also carries with him three weapons: A reliable shotgun, a small pistol, and a wrench used for both repairing his machines and whacking enemies.

Sentry gun: Check. Dispenser: Check. Evil laugh: Check

Heavy: An imposing Russian man with a brain about as large as a bullet, the Heavy Weapons Guy's trademark is his humongous gun. Even though the gun has a capacity of 200 rounds, its insanely fast firing rate spits them out at such a speed that he's likely to finish off his ammunition in almost no time at all. His secondary weapon is a trusty shotgun, great for finishing off puny enemies moving too fast for his main gun to keep up with. Finally, instead of a third weapon like a wrench or bottle, the Heavy uses his fists to do the talking. One blow from those big hands is sure to send any foe reeling. Even though he's by far the slowest class, the Heavy is a force to be reckoned with.

Medic: A German doctor seemingly more interested in pain than healing, the Medic deals exclusively with medically-based weaponry. His Medigun can heal allies from a short distance, allowing him to hide in safety while somebody else takes all the beatings. His Syringe Gun fires medical needles at his foes, but they're filled with anything but painkillers. Finally, the Medic has his trusty Bonesaw, great for amputating limbs from patients both anesthetized and awake. The Medic's Medigun has a special ability, going by the name of Uber. Whenever the Medigun is healing, the Ubercharge slowly builds. When the meter fills up completely, the Medic can latch his Medigun onto an ally, and initiate an Uber. This makes both the Medic and the target invulnerable for a short time, posing a huge threat to any foe nearby. The Medic is surely an important part of any team, and a single Uber can instantly turn the tables of any battle.

Pyro: The Pyro may as well be a Canadian woman for all we know, since his thick mask muffles any speech to the point of being nearly incomprehensible. His trademark flamethrower can ignite foes from a short distance, leaving them burning and taking damage for several seconds afterwords. He, like the Heavy and Engineer, also wields a shotgun for taking care of foes too far to be set aflame. Finally, his melee weapon is a fire axe, although it serves a purpose quite opposite of a firefighter's intent of rescue.

Scout: A big-talking punk from Brooklyn, the Scout is rarely seen due to how incredibly fast he runs. His Scattergun (Resembling a sawed-off shotgun) is great for dealing with foes at medium range, while his pistol picks up the foes further away. Up close, though, the Scout prefers to use his trusty steel baseball bat to do the dirty work. With super-speed and double-jumping abilities, the Scout is key to reconnaissance and fetch-missions.

Sniper: A sharp-shooting marksman from the land down under, Australia, the Sniper likes to do his work from a distance. Using his sniper rifle, the Sniper can easily zoom in and target foes from far across the battlefield, shooting them in the body for heavy damage, or firing a round into their head for a one-shot kill. The Sniper also wields a small automatic gun in the form of an SMG. While incredibly weak, the SMG can be used to take care of any enemy that gets a little too close for comfort. When the foe really gets in his face, the Sniper can pull out his Kukri and slash the opponent to death with the knife's large, curved blade.

Soldier: An American army major who gains great joy from blood and guts, the Soldier is definitely a monster on the battlefield. His claim to fame is the incredibly powerful rocket launcher, firing slow-moving explosives packed with deadly force. Like many other classes, the Soldier can fall back on his trusty shotgun when the enemy gets a little too close. His melee weapon is a small shovel, but this spade digs nothing but graves. Similar to the Demoman's sticky bomb-jump, the Soldier can fire a rocket at his feet to fly into the air and reach new places.

Spy: A man of many faces and nationalities, the Spy slips behind enemy lines with ease. His primary weapon is a small handgun, with very weak shots and a small clip size. His secondary weapon is useful only against Engineer buildings, and it goes by the name of Sapper. The Sapper can be placed on any of the four different Engineer machines, slowly weakening it to the point of destruction. Also, the Sapper immobilizes the building it's attached to, making it unable to do anything. The only way to remove a Sapper is with an Engineer's wrench, so the Spy makes sure to strike when there is nobody around. The Spy's third weapon is a Butterfly Knife, and it's one of the only two weapons in the game able to kill instantly (The other being the sniper rifle). If the Spy attacks an enemy from behind with the Butterfly Knife, it's a one-hit kill, as well as one heck of a rush. If attacking from any other angle, though, it's fairly weak. Obviously the Spy works better in the shadows, thus the reason for the most complex ability in the game: Disguise. Using the Spyotron 2000, the Spy can disguise himself as any class from either team, blending into crowds and becoming far harder to detect. However, unlike allies which can be walked through, enemies cannot. Thus, the Spy must tread carefully and avoid bumping into foes, blowing his cover. Finally, the Spy can turn invisible for a short time, becoming entirely undetectable to the foe. The Spy is definitely the most complex of all the classes in Team Fortress 2, and the length of this paragraph proves it. One good Spy can devastate an entire charging group of enemies, an ability every team can benefit from.

The classes in Team Fortress 2 (Left to right: Pyro, Engineer, Spy, Heavy, Sniper, Scout, Soldier, Demoman, Medic)

With plenty of classes to choose from, there's bound to be a perfect fit for any player. Aside from the Spy, every character is very easy to learn, making transitioning from class to class quite simple and effortless. The class design is very balanced and fair on the most part, with any arising problems swiftly being dealt with by Valve via a patch. Also, each class is easily identified at a glance, making it incredibly simple to figure out what you're up against (Unless it's a Spy, in which case you're screwed). Truly a very fun system, and it really sets Team Fortress 2 apart from the other shooters on the market.

The objective of each game in Team Fortress 2 changes depending on the map that is being played. The primary mode is Capture Point, with the goal being capture all the specially marked spots all over the map, or in some variations, defend them from being captured by the enemy team. In one other minor variation, both teams start holding just one capture point, and the condition for victory for both teams is to capture the other team's lone point.

Another play mode is Capture The Flag, in which each team must capture a set amount of intelligence-containing briefcases from the enemy base. This mode relies very heavily on team work, as it would be incredibly difficult for one player to pull this off on his or her own.

Since the game's release, two new modes have been officially added to the game. First is Payload, in which BLU Team must escort a bomb on a mine cart to RED Team's base. If the cart is left alone for too long, it rolls backwards, meaning BLU needs to constantly keep an eye on it, while RED always needs to bombard it with bullets, flames and explosives to keep cart-pushing BLU fighters at bay.

The newest mode added to Team Fortress 2 is Arena. It's comparable to the Deathmatch mode of most first-person shooters, but the difference is the team-based gameplay. Each round starts with either team at the far end of the map, with one closed control point in the middle. After sixty seconds of attacking, dodging and hiding, the middle point opens up, creating an objective for each team to fight for. The game ends when either the capture point is taken, or when all players on one team are wiped out.

I really enjoy all of these varied modes, each of which presenting a unique challenge requiring separated approaches. There are at least two official maps available for each mode, with dozens of different player-made maps to enjoy as well. Team Fortress 2 offers so many different ways to play that it almost literally blows my mind. Almost. If it did, that would be very messy, and we don't want that.

As I've said many times before, teamwork is a big part of Team Fortress 2. Alerting your allies to threats is key to success, and that's why Valve added in several short, quick phrases for players to say quickly in the thick of battle. With just two quick keystrokes, you can alert teammates to spies, sentries, incoming enemies and more, as well as request a dispenser, tell a Medic to launch an Uber, and even compliment someone on a nice shot. There's also a selection of things that can be said just for fun, such as a battle cry ("Let's get 'em!"), positive messages ("You've done me proud, boys"), and negative messages ("BOOOO!"). What exactly is said changes from class to class, with the previous messages coming from the Scout, Soldier and Heavy respectively. Each class has two or more different sound bytes for each "quick phrase", all of them unique and, at times, humourous. Of course, if you have a headset, you can easily supply your own audio commentary, or just type in your own custom messages manually.

In fact, humour is a large part of the Team Fortress 2 experience. When hit by an explosive, characters explode in an exaggerated deluge of blood and body parts, and several vocal sound bytes are there just for the sake of laughter ("Oh, they're gonna have to glue you back together... IN HELL!" is sometimes automatically said by a Demoman after blowing up an enemy, and it never fails to make me laugh). Also, each character has a taunt associated with each individual weapon. Demomen lift their groin shield and yell "Ka-BOOM!", while Medics stretch their rubber gloves and say "That wasn't medicine...". Many of these taunts have several different sound bytes associated with them, making for a good gloat every time.

I celebrate while capturing the point... on an empty server.

If I had to describe my gameplay experience with Team Fortress 2 in one word, it would be "Chaos". Rockets flying over my head, sticky bombs detonating beneath my feet, Butterfly Knives plunging into my back... It's nothing but insanity left and right, and I honestly couldn't be happier. Of course, that's not to say that organized gameplay isn't possible in Team Fortress 2. In fact, it's quite the opposite! Still, though, even the most well-planned assault can end in Soldier chunks all over the place.

As you can see from the above two screenshots, Team Fortress 2 is quite the good looking game. Want to hear something really interesting, though? Those screenshots are hardly representative of this game's true visual prowess, as my PC moves about as fast as a superglue-coated snail at full graphics. For a real look at Team Fortress 2's beauty, take a gander at the following screenshot I shamelessly pilfered from 1Fort:

If Chris Livingston is reading this, I apologize for nothing!

And thus the true beauty of Team Fortress 2 shines through. The model detail is amazing, and the lighting effects are plain breathtaking. And hot damn, I freaking love that art style. It's like the cast of The Incredibles all went nuts and killed each other, except Frozone was drunk, Scottish, and had one eyeball. There's really nothing else I can say except it looks amazing.

The music on the menus in Team Fortress 2 is beautifully orchestrated and incredibly catchy. In fact, I have it all in my playlist right now, as well as on a mix CD for the sound system downstairs! Drums, saxophones, flutes, and so many other instruments make up each of the game's three menu tracks. They're all so beautifully well-done, it's almost a shame that the battles are music-less. At least that allows me to focus on the gunfire...

The most outstanding part of how Team Fortress 2 sounds, though, is the voice acting. Each character sounds just as distinct as they look, from the Medic's German accent to the Heavy's angry Russian yells. You'll never mistake a Soldier for a Sniper, or mix up Pyros and Engineers. Also, some of the things they say are just so darned hilarious. From the Heavy frantically screaming "I spy! The Spy is a lie!" to the Demoman drunkenly blurting out "If I wasn't the man I was I'd kiss ya!", it's nothing but laughs left and right.

Finally, the sound effects for all the weapons is a treat for the ears. The sentry gun beeps and whirs as it awaits a target, and the flamethrower makes a sound well fitting of its huge flame. Team Fortress 2 succeeds in yet another field!

While Team Fortress 2 is addictive on its own, Valve constantly introduces new game modes and maps every few months to keep things going, as well as to help improve upon some classes' weaknesses. Just this week Valve released an update that helped the Heavy become a far more effective force on the battlefield, giving him three new unlockable weapons: Natascha (A special mini-gun to replace his affectionately-named Sascha), the Killer Gloves of Boxing (A pair of gloves that slow down the Heavy's punches, but also add the benefit of guaranteed critical hits after killing someone), and the Sandvich (A sandwich to replace the Heavy's shotgun, allowing him to heal without the aid of a Medic).

New unlockable weapons such as the Heavy's Sandvich both improve on Team Fortress 2, as well as increase the games longevity.

As if this game wasn't addictive enough, Valve had to go and make it even more so. If I weren't having such a good time, I'd probably be upset about this.


Gameplay: 10/10
Team Fortress 2 plays like a dream. With so many different modes, maps and classes, it's just mind-bogglingly diverse, and it's all so incredibly fun. Working as a team is also a nice idea in this time of "free-for-all" gameplay ruling all. Definitely the best first-person shooter I have ever played.

Graphics: 10/10
Just like how Team Fortress 2 plays like a dream, it looks the part, too. The visual effects are some of the best I've ever seen, and the incredibly unique and expressive art style gives life to the characters in a way I never thought possible in a first-person shooter. Just an amazing-looking game.

Audio: 10/10
Again, I can think of nothing bad to say here that's anything more than trivial. The music on the main menu is fantastic, the voice acting is brilliantly funny, and the weapon sounds are all perfect. Just amazing.

Longevity: 10/10
As long as there's people to play against, Team Fortress 2 will continue to bring me back. After all, as long as there are players, there will be new maps, modes and more to keep me interested. Valve will certainly be supporting Team Fortress 2 for a very long time, and I'll be there with them the whole way for sure.

OVERALL: 10/10
There's really nothing more to say. Team Fortress 2 is just an amazing game in every conceivable way. From the way it looks to the way it plays, it's a triumph in every category. In my honest opinion, Team Fortress 2 is the definitive online multiplayer experience. So much to do, and so many ways to do it.

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If you're not quite ready to pay up for Team Fortress 2 just yet, there's an easy way to tell if you like it: Give it a test run! From now until the 24th, Valve is offering a free weekend to anyone who wishes to give the game a go. Just follow the instructions at the top of this page, and you'll be fragging in no time. So go on, give it a try!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

It's time for Pokémon to evolve

Yeah, I felt like a bit of a jerk for not writing anything, so here ya go. Thought this up as I fell asleep last night.

I've loved the Pokémon games ever since I saw a friend playing it on the playground so many years ago. I loved exploring the Pokémon world, catching the Pokémon, fighting the gym leaders, beating the Elite Four, and generally just living the Pokémon life. After playing Yellow Version for a while, I got Gold, then Crystal, followed by Ruby, Leafgreen, and Diamond. I had quite a bit of fun in each of these games. Looking back, though, all of these games, although different, were still fundamentally the same. Ten years later, I'm still fighting gym leaders, challenging the Elite Four, and fighting some sort of evil (Yet inept) association. Little has been added to the series, and I think it's about time things change.

First off, I'm getting tired of the same old plot each and every time. It's always a ten year-old boy/girl embarking on a big journey to become the best Pokémon trainer, blah blah blah. Can't we think of something better? Maybe a game were the protagonist is a teenager, leaving home to prove himself? Say the young man is tired of living in his older brother's shadow, and he sets out to make a name for himself. Sure, there's still the basic formula of gym battles and Elite Four challenges, but at least it's a different plot. Also, wouldn't it be cool if the Elite Four Champion turned out to be the player's jerky older brother? That would make for an interesting "final battle" atmosphere, with the big brother constantly taunting his sibling throughout the match.

Second, how about we try something different with the evil corporation that always seems to lie just below the surface? How about some sort of truly evil group that kidnaps trainers and steals their Pokémon, then demands ransom for the trainer's return? A truly malevolent organization would add a whole new angle to the series, with both the police and groups of trainers fighting back against them. Heck, the player could even join one of these groups, fighting the corporation in team-vs-team matches spread throughout the existing "be the best" plot. Just a little something to add some spice to the general monotony.

Third, I think Pokémon needs some sort of new gameplay mechanic. Not something minor and passive like the Pokétch from Diamond and Pearl or contests from Ruby and Sapphire. I mean something that affects and enhances the core gameplay. As for what exactly the new mechanic should be, I'm not sure. Just something, anything to change up the quickly-becoming-stale gameplay of Pokémon.

As I said at the beginning of the article, some progress has been made on improving the franchise. A few new game elements have been introduced over the years, and even new story elements have made their debut. Still, though, it's not enough to mask the fact that this series has been much the same ever since it first appeared on the Game Boy. I'll be picking up Platinum for sure, but unless the next game introduces something truly new and exciting, I'm not sure if I'll be continuing my quest as a Pokémon trainer.

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Evolving One Duck's Opinion

I'm not sure how to put this, so I hope you understand what I'm about to say. One Duck's Opinion is going to be changing a little. Before you freak out, allow me to say that I will still write, I will still give my opinions, and I will still review and comment on video games.

What's going to change is the formerly narrow subject pool. From this day forward, One Duck's Opinion will no longer be almost entirely about Nintendo. As I've said before, my two main gaming platforms are Wii and PC. Thus, One Duck's Opinion will start to feature more coverage and discussion of PC-related news and reviews. Again, I will still talk about Nintendo, but computer-centric articles are going to be added into the mix. Adding a little RollerCoaster Tycoon to the Super Mario, some Half-Life 2 to the Metroid. Well, not literally, of course. Those combinations would make terrible cross-overs.

I don't wish to alienate any of my established readers here, so if you are angered or upset by this change, please let me know. It's just that I have changed a lot over the last fifteen months, and I feel the blog has to evolve with me. I hope you can all respect and accept this change, as it is something I feel I have to do. As of late I've been playing almost nothing but PC, and it's beginning to occupy my mind more than Nintendo and their games. I still have a love for the consoles made by Nintendo and the games available for them, of course. I still play my DS and Wii just about every day. It's just that the computer in my bedroom is starting to take up a larger slice out of my gaming pie.

If this change meets with negative reception, I'll reconsider, I assure you. I don't want to disappoint anyone out there who likes the blog in its current form. As for now, though, I feel it's a necessary change. I hope you can all accept this happily.

One Duck's Opinion will return this Friday with a brand-new review and renewed enthusiasm. Well, I will, at least. Until then, I hope you all have a great time doing whatever it is you do. This is PsychoDuck, signing off.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Yeah, I suppose you saw this coming.

No article today. Oh dear. Sorry, I guess. I don't know, saying sorry means to little now, considering how many times I've said it. I dunno about this schedule deal anymore... I gotta think about some stuff. Something on Wednesday is a target for me, so keep an eye out, I guess.

The Duck Has Spoken.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Poll #53: "What do you think of Pokémon Platinum?" results, banner

"It looks amazing!" 7 votes (25%)
"Could be fun" 9 votes (32%)
"I don't care all that much for it" 3 votes (10%)
"Enough freaking Pokémon already!" 4 votes (14%)
"I don't know" 1 votes (3%)
"Wait, there's a Pokémon Platinum now?" 4 votes (14%)

Well, that's a majority of positive votes. I suppose I can't blame those who voted negatively, though. Pokémon isn't for everyone, and there sure is a lot of it...

Hey, look at this banner! Yes, I finally managed to make something this week, and I tried something a little different (In more ways than one). First of all, this banner has nothing to do with Nintendo. It's all about Team Fortress 2, folks! I really, really love me some Team Fortress 2. Probably the best online shooter I have ever, EVER played. Also, check out what I did with the site name. I thought that was an interesting idea. Really blends in with the image, without standing out. I always found that to be a problem, but that isn't the case today!

Alright, that just leaves the matter of this weeks poll: "What do you think of Nintendo's upcoming Wii releases?" If we narrow it down to the games with release dates, that leaves just Mario Super Sluggers and Animal Crossing: City Folk. Not very much, huh? Just be happy Nintendo isn't the only company developing for the Wii, and also be glad that third parties are starting to step up their game.

New article may or may not be up tonight. If not, I'll make a post saying I'm lazy and terrible at keeping schedules.

The Duck Has Spoken.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Dr. Mario Online Rx review

Developer: Arika
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: May 26th, 2008
ESRB Rating: E for Everyone

Mario has taken on many different jobs over the years. From his base occupation of plumber, Nintendo's mascot has also been a soccer player, tennis star, kart racer and even a toy factory tycoon. None of these jobs would have been possible, though, had it not been for the NES title Dr. Mario. This was the first Mario game ever to portray him as something other than a plumber (Excluding his "Jumpman" persona in Donkey Kong), and it paved the way for many genre-breaking games starring everyone's favourite Italian plumber. Dr. Mario is a very important title to the history of Nintendo, and it finally made the transition to WiiWare in Dr. Mario Online Rx.

Dr. Mario Online Rx is just like any other Dr. Mario game. Each level sees the good doctor (Or the player's Mii, if desired) tossing pills into a bottle-shaped playing field to destroy the primary-coloured viruses. The gameplay is quite simply, really, just like any puzzle game should be. Just match up four or more of the same colour in a row (Vertically or horizontally, but not diagonally), and it disappears. Those four can be any combination of viruses and pills, too, so it's possible to take out multiple viruses in one hit, as well as just destroy some junk pieces that are lying around.

To maneuver the pill into position, it can be rotated either clockwise or counter-clockwise, and move left or right as it slowly descends. There is no way to move a pill upwards, so thinking fast is key. If players don't move quickly, the pills will pile up. A full bottle means game over, so be attentive!

Those little buggers won't be smiling for long...

Every single-player round starts off on a level of the player's choosing, and the higher the level, the more viruses there are to be destroyed. The player can only select levels on a chart from 0 to 20, although beating level 20 does lead to 21, 22, 23, and so on. Eventually, the amount of viruses added to each level gets to a limit, and the only remaining factor of increasing difficulty is stamina (Although players can increase the falling speed at the options screen, but not during a game). I can hardly beat level 17, so I shudder at what playing fifty levels-straight of the exact same brutal difficulty! My eyes and hands would surely disintegrate (In that order, too)!

Each level has a preset high score, and one of the goals (Other than survival) is to surpass it. Getting a high score depends heavily on setting up combos. When destroying a virus or spare pills, any capsules left out of the match-up will fall to the bottom of the jar. If enough pills fall onto a like-coloured target further down in the bottle, the object will be destroyed immediately, thus creating a combo. In fact, if it weren't for space constraints, it would be perfectly possible to set up an infinite combo.

Basically, that's the entirety of Dr. Mario right there. Just keep tossing those pills in and fighting off the viruses, wash, rinse, repeat. Nothing ever really changes other than the virus count, so that's kind of a bummer. I though it'd be cool if your pills started to speed up in the higher levels, but that just isn't so. Although, after voicing my concerns on difficulty earlier, perhaps it's best for my sanity that this doesn't happen.

Also present in Dr. Mario Online Rx is another variant on the game called Virus Buster. Originally a bonus game in Brain Age 2: More Brain Training in Minutes a Day, Virus Buster is like a simplified version of the basic Dr. Mario formula. Instead of moving the pills with the D-pad, they instead have to be grabbed with the Wii remote's pointer and A button. The pills are rotated by holding the cursor over them, and tapping either A (Clockwise) or B (Counter-clockwise). This can be a bit of a problem, though, seeing as the A button serves two functions. While holding the button grabs the pill, tapping the button rotates it. Accidentally grabbing a pill when meaning to rotate it can mess you up pretty easily. As if it weren't hectic enough in Dr. Mario!

Virus Buster makes its console debut in Dr. Mario Online Rx

Virus Buster increases the difficulty each level in a manner similar to Dr. Mario, but with one minor addition. In Virus Buster, several pieces begin to fall at the same time when a certain amount of time passes. Up to three pills can fall at once, requiring quick reflexes in order to succeed.

Another minor change is the ability to grab and manipulate falling debris. This adds a new level of strategy to the game, allowing players to quickly scramble to salvage all they can of their combo leftovers. A pretty neat little evolution of the game, and I certainly welcome it.

Generally, the gameplay in Virus Buster is pretty solid. However, I have noticed one minor glitch. It is very possible to drag a piece through a solid line of pills and viruses, pulling it over to the other side of the obstruction. While not game-breakingly bad, it's an annoying little quirk that shouldn't have been present in the final version. It kind of removes some of the challenge when a pill can merely be swiped through a tower of objects. Still, I'm surprised to see it in the final release.

Ultimately, I still prefer the original Dr. Mario heavily over Virus Buster. It's still nice to see a new take on a classic, though, and I applaud the developer for giving a good try.

Dr. Mario and Virus Buster still use the same basic presentation of the previous titles, except with cleaner 3D models making up the doctors and viruses. The pills and viruses in the playing field itself are still nothing more than sprites, although they are incredibly crisp and lively, especially with Virus Buster's enlarged display. The 3D main screen and milestone animations are really clean, too. Overall, Dr. Mario Online Rx is a very good-looking puzzler.

If there's one video game song that has really stuck with me over the years, it's the Dr. Mario main theme. That catchy little tune constantly surfaces as I hum during my daily chores. Thankfully, the original soundtrack and more from the NES game have returned in Dr. Mario Online Rx, completely remixed and just downright amazing. The game includes four catchy tunes to choose from, each one with its own medical-themed name: Chill, Fever, Sneeze and Cough. Personally, I'm a "Chill" kinda guy. Can't go wrong with a classic!

A little less fantastic, though, are the sound effects, which never amount to more than standard puzzle game fare. Blips, bloops, and a few garbled yells from the viruses are all you really get. Despite the simplicity, though, I can't really think of anything I'd change.

Some of my fondest gaming memories are of playing Dr. Mario on the NES with my family, and I got to relive those glory days again through Online Rx. The multiplayer is basically the same as the normal game, but with one minor twist. When players pull off a combo, blocks corresponding to those destroyed descend upon the other player's screen. For a two-piece combo, two blocks will fal, and then three for a three-piece combo, and finally, four for a four-piece combo. However, any combo larger than that doesn't attack the opponent any more than a four-piece combo would. You can still show off your insane Dr. Mario skills, but your opponent will feel no additional blow (Other than a psychological one).

Multiplayer: Good, clean, frantic fun.

There are two ways to win a round of multiplayer Dr. Mario: Clearing all the viruses on your half of the screen, or by causing the opponent to block the top of the bottle with pills (Just like losing in the single-player game).

Sadly, the four-player mode from Dr. Mario 64 is absent in Online Rx. Only two players may battle it out at once, which is a bit of a drag. Two player is still fun, but having four would be a blast.

Virus Buster also has its own multiplayer mode, but unlike the standard game, it is cooperative. Players instead work together on one bottle to destroy all the viruses, and teamwork is definitely key here. Also, unlike Dr. Mario, Virus Buster supports up to four players. Call the parents, it's a virus-busting party!

Virus Buster opens the door for four players to get in on the fun.

Finally, players can also take the battle online with Dr. Mario (Pretty much a given due to the "Online Rx" in its name), fighting against both friends and strangers from all around the world. The ranking system in Dr. Mario Online Rx is much like that of Mario Kart Wii. Each player starts off with 5000 points when they first go online. Each win adds points, and each loss takes away points. This helps determine match-ups in game, making it so you always face people of a similar skill level.

I've experienced nothing but perfectly smooth, lag-free gaming in all the time I've played Dr. Mario online. Connecting is quick, finding opponents is a matter of seconds, and the battles start almost immediately after you find someone to play against. Impressive, especially for a WiiWare release. Dr. Mario Online Rx definitely scores some big points in this department.

I think it's somewhat silly to even ask how long this game will last, but, it's a necessary part of the review. The simple answer is, I've been playing practically this exact same game for almost my whole life, and I never get tired of it. Having it on the Wii is just so much more convenient than resurrecting my NES. And now, if nobody else is home, I can still find an opponent online. Dr. Mario Online Rx is sure to be one of my most-played WiiWare games, if not my most-played Wii game altogether. You just can't beat the classics.


Gameplay: 9.0/10
Dr. Mario has always been a favourite franchise of mine, and now I get to enjoy it all over again. I just love this puzzle design, and it never seems to get old. And Virus Buster, while it has its flaws, still manages to bring something fresh and fun to the Dr. Mario formula. Online Rx is a winning package in my books.

Graphics: 8.0/10
Everything is just so bright and crisp in Online Rx, although the majority of the graphics are still two-dimensional and sprite based. The 3D doctors and viruses flanking the play field are very nice touches, though. The pills and viruses in-play look even better when magnified in Virus Buster, making Online Rx pretty good-looking for a puzzle game.

Audio: 8.25/10
All original songs from past Dr. Mario games make a return in Online Rx, newly remixed and just as catchy as before. While the music is fantastic, the sound effects never go beyond anything you'd expect from a standard puzzle game.

Multiplayer: 9.3/10
Everything to do with multiplayer in Online Rx is an absolute blast. Playing against a friend, working with your family or pummeling some sap across the globe, it's all just so much fun. The only real problem I have is the lack of four-player Dr. Mario, which would have been a great addition. Otherwise, Dr. Mario's multiplayer is flawless.

Longevity: 9.7/10
I've been playing Dr. Mario nearly my whole life, and there's nothing stopping me from carrying on this legacy with Online Rx. It's an amazing upgrade of one of my favourite puzzlers ever, and I could definitely spend a whole day playing nothing but this.

OVERALL: 9.3/10
Dr. Mario Online Rx is a fantastic puzzle game in almost every way. From playing alone to fighting a friend to destroying some dude in Europe, Dr. Mario is a blast no matter how I look at it. Virus Buster adds a bit of variety to the mix, and while it could use a bit of polishing, it's still a welcome addition. Online Rx is sure to be a staple of my gaming habits for a long time.

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Wednesday, August 13, 2008

What kind of gamer am I?

As of late, a whole lot of classifying words have been flying around. Hardcore, casual and mainstream seem to pop up more than any others. Looking at all these different groups and their descriptions, though, I can't figure out where exactly it is I fit in.

"Hardcore" generally refers to one who prefers action, gripping stories and awesome graphics over much else. However, the hardcore gamer also tends to avoid games like Animal Crossing and Picross, two titles that get so very much playtime out of me. Thus, I am not a "hardcore" gamer.

"Casual" usually entails buying games only now and then, as well as gravitating towards the simpler and more pick-up-and-play titles. While I enjoy many games intended for the casual gamer, I buy and play video games far too often to be considered one. That means I'm not a "casual" gamer, either.

"Mainstream" gamers tend to play a lot of shooters and action games, titles with instant, violent gratification and plenty of grit. While I enjoy games like these from time to time, I also enjoy so many other classes of virtual entertainment. So, I can't be a "mainstream" gamer.

What does that leave? There is no real term that refers to the type of gamer that I am. I play all sorts of games, from shooters to social simulators to strategy games. From Team Fortress 2 to Animal Crossing, I do it all. What does that make me?

Looking at all the words in the English language, I can't seem to find one that, when combined with "gamer", describes my playing habits. For a while I considered the title of "True Gamer", but I felt that to be stuck up and elitist. I also thought that maybe "Just-For-Fun Gamer" would work, but that sounded too much like a casual gamer. No combination of words seems to describe the kind of gamer that I am.

Looking at it all, I'm beginning to think that this whole classification deal is pointless. No two gamers are truly alike, and thus, no groups or classes of gamers can be decided. To me, the words "casual", "hardcore" and "mainstream" mean very little. Wii Sports, The Conduit, Super Mario Galaxy, they're all the same to me. They're all just games. And us...

We're all just gamers

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Tuesday, August 12, 2008

What else could Nintendo have in store for the Wii?

It's after 1 AM, and I'm only just now starting to write. Not my best scheduling ever.

At any given time, Nintendo has literally dozens of games in development. As of this writing, we know of only twelve or so. What else could they be working on? Here are a few of my guesses.

First off, I'm almost positive Nintendo has a new Star Fox in the works. Both Shigeru Miyamoto and series creator Takaya Imamura have spoken about a Star Fox Wii in the past hypothetically. Really, it's a no-brainer that this game will happen. Just look at that control scheme! The Wii remote is a natural fit for flying the Arwing, and I'm somewhat surprised to have not seen anything yet. Perhaps it will use the Wii MotionPlus? That would explain the drought of news so far.

Next, I'm thinking that a new Excite Truck is on the way. There's too much potential in this game to just not have a sequel. It had a few problems, yes, like a limited, two-player-only multiplayer and no online at all, but the potential was amazing. I'm sure Nintendo is thinking the same thing, and a sequel is almost certainly at least in the planning stages. This, too, could take advantage of Wii MotionPlus, allowing for more precise and accurate steering, as well as some new tricks. Man, now I'm really pumped for this... Make it happen, Nintendo!

With the recent news regarding Kuju developing another Wii game, thoughts of Battalion Wars 3 immediately surfaced. I love the Battalion Wars series (Published by Nintendo), and the second title proved just how well the franchise fits with the Wii control scheme. A third game developed by Kuju looks like a good bet, and the MotionPlus could definitely become a part of it. I can just imagine the amazingly-precise aerial combat controls... It's official: This needs to happen.

I'm thinking that another WarioWare game may also be in development. Just imagine, Wario's insanity mixed with the Balance Board... Totally nuts. Pack the Balance Board in with the game, and you've got a winner. Standing on one foot, leaning to avoid projectiles, and even stepping off the board at the right time are all possible uses for the Balance Board, and I can see them fitting in very well with the WarioWare formula. I'd honestly be more surprised if Nintendo isn't working on this.

Another Metroid also seems pretty likely. Corruption proved just how amazing a first-person shooter could be on the Wii, and I doubt Nintendo would just use that formula once and then leave it to die. Sure, Retro may not be behind it this time around, but the potential is too great to go ignored. The controls in Corruption were just so darn amazing, I want to experience them all over again, and then some. I just know some more amazing uses for the controller could be thought up. Nintendo surely won't let this opportunity pass them by.

So there you have it, five possibilities for upcoming Wii games. I'm nearly positive at least three of these will appear on the Wii sometime in it's lifespan. The only question now is when.

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The Duck Has Spoken.

Poll #52: "How much do you want The Conduit?" results, no new banner

"I want it a whole lot!" 14 votes (42%)
"I sort of want it" 8 votes (24%)
"I'm not really too keen on it" 5 votes (15%)
"Looks like crap" 0 votes (0%)
"I don't know" 1 vote (3%)
"What the heck's The Conduit?" 5 votes (15%)

Well, the majority of people who actually know what The Conduit is seem pretty interested. Can't blame them, really, what with the amazing graphics and huge potential. Also, High Voltage really "gets" the Wii, so it will be quite interesting to see what they manage to deliver.

There is no new banner today. Why? Well, nobody submitted one, and I can't think of a single good idea. Not one. I tried making maybe six different banners, and they all sucked. Oh well, I suppose having this one up for one more week won't hurt.

Finally, as for this week's poll, the subject is "What do you think of Pokémon Platinum?". Personally, it looks like the most updated of any "third" Pokémon game so far. A brand new, messed-up dimension, mini-games, an updated story, a crazy new Battle Frontier, and a whole lot of really impressive 3D graphics. Seriously looks like one hell of a game.

New article will be up in a little bit!

The Duck Has Spoken.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Nintendo crossovers we'll never see

No, I don't really think any of the below crossovers are a particularly good idea. Well, except for maybe Chibi-Robo... Otherwise, it's all bull crap.

Marvel vs. Capcom, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, and Drawn to Life: Spongebob Squarepants Edition. These are just three of the many video games crossovers so far released or conceived. So many of these "worlds collide" video games are so insanely out-there that it's amazing they were ever even thought up. Sometimes they seem to just pick two random franchises and see if they can be slapped together. Well, whether or not that's how these games come about, that's exactly the approach I took here. So, without further ado, I present three insanely out-there game crossovers featuring Nintendo franchises, complete with phony synopses. Enjoy.

Chibi-Robo is back from the park and heading home once more in Chibi-Robo: Katamari for the Nintendo Wii. Strange happenings are now taking place in the Hoshino household, and little Chibi-Robo is sent straight to Japan for his next adventure. All over the country, for no apparent reason, anything resembling a cleaning tool is disappearing. There isn't even anything left for the little robot to use as a tiny broom! With this catastrophe taking place, Chibi-Robo is placed in the Hoshino family household to clean up as well as he can, while simultaneously keeping a robotic eye out for any bizarre happenings.

Poor little Chibi-Robo does his best to clean up, but sadly, he simply cannot work all that efficiently without a proper tool to clean with. Noticing the little robots troubles, Mutsuo Hoshino cries up to the heavens in an appeal to the King of All Cosmos. However, the royal family is on vacation in Prague at the moment, and can't be bothered to help. The King feels bad, though, and sends down one tiny Katamari to the Hoshino household, only this time the Prince doesn't come with it. A tiny little note is attached to the Katamari, far too small for any of the Hoshino family to read, so Telly Vision reads it out loud to the household. It says that Chibi-Robo can use this Katamari, but with a catch: Each ball of trash he collects must be sent to the King to be properly disposed of. The little robot thinks this is a fair deal, and sets off to use his new tool.

In Chibi-Robo: Katamari, the objective is to clean the Hoshino household as thoroughly as possible. Problem is, the Hoshino family is a very sloppy one, with food, garbage and various other litter constantly being dropped onto the floor. This is no match for the Katamari, though! As the ball grows, so does its gathering ability. Soon enough, it's big enough to pick up animals, people, and even entire buildings. Nothing is safe from the cleaning power of the Katamari!

Chibi-Robo: Katamari features a huge cast of lovable characters, as well as several returning personalities from the two franchises. What could happen when Funky Phil meets the Origami Kid? Play to find out!

Chibi-Robo: Katamari is being cooperatively developed by Namco Limited and Nintendo, and is expected to be released between next Tuesday and January 27th, 2063.

Bullet Bills meet .45 caliber Magnum rounds in Grand Theft Kart. A joint production between Nintendo and Rockstar Games, Grand Theft Kart looks to bring together two of the most well-known franchises in the industry together in a true battle royale on the Nintendo Wii.

Niko Bellic has grown tired of Liberty City. He's seen everything there is to see, stolen every car worth stealing, and killed all who deserved to die. Riding his motorcycle to wherever the road takes him, he winds up in the Mushroom Kingdom, land of superhero plumbers and fungal townsfolk. It should go without saying that Niko doesn't exactly fit in with the local crowd, and noting a lack of strict law enforcement, he decides to do whatever he pleases. This doesn't sit too well with a certain Italian plumber, and things soon turn sour. The pudgy tradesman challenges Niko to a series of races to determine who gets to stay and who must leave. And so begins the next installment in two of the largest franchises in all of gaming, a clash of culture, ESRB ratings and art styles, in the biggest game of 2008 2009 2012 whenever Nintendo decides to finally release it.

The gameplay is simple, yet addictive. Players get to choose from dozens of vehicles, from Mario's trademark go-kart to a cement truck Niko carjacked on the freeway. Mario Kart's signature item system makes a full return, with brand new items such as exploding Yoshi eggs, descent-slowing umbrellas and rocket launchers joining the fray. While using items effectively does lead to a better standing in the end, it doesn't sit too well with the newly-established Toad police force. While the use of items such as Koopa shells, banana peels and Bullet Bills is A-OK by their "For the Sake of Comedy" by-law, more violent weapons such as Desert Eagles, steel baseball bats and rocket launchers leads to an increase in the player's heat level. If things get too hot, you've got two choices: Try to avoid the police in a fast-paced, mid-race chase, or dash over to Monty Mole's Auto Shop and get a new coat of paint to fool the cops.

Another key feature in Grand Theft Kart is free-roaming gameplay between races. Drive and walk about the Mushroom Kingdom, stealing karts, shooting Koopas and robbing Item Shops as you please. Beneath this cheery layer of happiness, though, lies the true evil of the Mushroom Kingdom. Niko slowly becomes privy to information regarding Kingpin Bowser's secret underground mushroom ring, and hears of plans to overthrow the Toadstool family's rule. Players can choose to take either side in this turf war, working for or against the evil Bowser and his many, one-hit-to-kill henchmen.

Grand Theft Kart is a huge step forward for both of these franchises, and it's thanks to the brilliantly messed-up minds at both Rockstar Games and Nintendo that this game will one day become a reality. Just don't expect it any time before the apocalypse.

RED and BLU meet GREEN in this Wii-exclusive version of Valve's critically-acclaimed Team Fortress 2. A simple farm hand, Link finds himself thrust into a bizarre new universe, full of modern weaponry and a mercifully low amount of high-pitched fairy yammering. He has no idea how he got here, his mind totally devoid of any memory regarding this inter-universe detour. Stumbling around in a confused state, Link finds a pair of teams killing each other. Apparently, the two teams are workers from two different companies: One team is from a construction firm (Builders League United, or BLU), while another is from a demolition contractor (Reliable Excavation and Demolition or RED). This paper-thin cover slowly gives away to the truth: Both companies are secret organizations bent on eliminating the other. They've been at this for years, when, shortly after Link's arrival, another company appears: GREEN. This company seems to be interested only in absorbing other organizations into its mega-corporation, and the truth explains all: The name GREEN stands for Ganondorf's Relentless Evildoing Enhancement Network. He plans on taking over the world in a whole new way this time: Corporate domination.

What can Link do in this situation? It's quite simple: He must fight alongside either RED or BLU, battling against both the opposing company and GREEN's evil plans. He takes the role of a class exclusive to the Wii adaption of Team Fortress 2: Handheld weapons expert. His assortment of weaponry features many Zelda mainstays, such as the bow and arrow, the Hookshot, and, of course, the Master Sword. His method of fighting requires getting up close and personal with his targets to be truly effective, which sets him apart from most other classes in the game. Playing well as Link won't be an easy task for Team Fortress 2 veterans, but once players figure him out, it's sure to be a blast.

Zelda Fortress 2 is unique in a way, in that it only has that basic premise to hold it together. There never really is any official face-off with Ganondorf's forces. Instead, Zelda Fortress 2 is a huge online first-person shooter, with crazy over-the-top animations and a bizarre sense of humour. Each player has their own unique set of taunts, from the spy's butterfly taunt ("I'm going to gut you like a Cornish game hen") to Link's Hookshot taunt ("Well excuuuuuuse me, princess!"). While the story element may be entirely disposable in the Zelda timeline, it's sure to still be one heck of a fun departure. Hey, you wanted something new with your next Zelda, didn't you? Here ya go, then.

If the development process of both Team Fortress 2 (Announced in 1998, released in 2007) and Nintendo's notorious delays are any indications, we should expect to see Zelda Fortress 2 hit store shelves sometime after the next couple billion years, with at least one dramatic graphical overhaul in the interim. Quality takes time, people!

I hope you all enjoyed this journey into the flaming pit of my overactive imagination. If any of these titles were to be released, I'd surely explode with surprise. That being said, I think I'll be avoiding the next few Nintendo conferences, just to be safe...

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The Duck Has Spoken.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Underused features of the Nintendo DS

A pseudo-sequel to last year's Underused features of the Wii

The Nintendo DS is chock-full of features, but some of them go relatively unnoticed by developers. Here are three such features which I feel deserve far more attention.

The first underused feature I'll be mentioning goes by a few names. Slot 2, GBA slot, and expansion slot are its three most common titles. I prefer to call it "untapped potential". To date, only six official peripherals have been released for this slot: The Rumble Pak, the Face Training Camera, the Guitar Hero: On Tour controller, the Arkanoid paddle, the Slide Adventure Mag Kid controller and the memory expansion needed for the Opera web browser, all but one of which only works with a single piece of software. But so much more could be done here! Imagine some sort of motion controller, or an analog controller add-on. Maybe even an expansion similar to the Nintendo 64's Memory Expansion Pak, enabling more complex DS games to be made.

I can't think of any good reason why anything truly great hasn't been officially released for Slot 2. The potential in that tiny little port is quite amazing, really, and it's a shame to see it go underused.

It's also disappointing to see so little proper use being made of the microphone. And by proper, I don't mean blowing into your DS to put out a candle or anything. No, I mean vocal input. The first DS game to make good use of this potential-packed feature was Nintendogs, and since then very few games have come close to matching the pet simulator's voice-command technology. I would have loved to yell "Pikachu, use Thunderbolt!" in Pokémon Diamond, but no, that just couldn't happen. Of course, I'd probably only do it once, get bored and go back to standard input, but hey, it's the principle of the thing! At least I can still yell "OBJECTION!" in my Ace Attorney games. Thanks for that, Capcom!

Of course, the other huge part of the Nintendo DS' vocal input technology is online voice chat. Sadly, I can only think of two games that use this: Pokémon Diamond/Pearl and Metroid Prime: Hunters. Come on, people! It's built right into the DS, how hard can it be to implement?

The final underused feature I'll be mentioning today is somewhat of a minor one compared to the two listed above: Closing the DS to affect gameplay. As far as I can tell, this first became a form of input in Trace Memory (Another Code outside of North America), used once about halfway through the game. The only other example that comes to mind is closing the lid on a pot in Konami's Lost In Blue, released back in 2005. Since then, I don't think a single game has taken advantage of this unique feature. Why not? This unconventional input can add loads of immersion to a game! A few WarioWare-like uses I can think of are closing the screen to crush bugs, to go to the next page in a newspaper (Open and close), and perhaps even to press a leaf into a book. Sure, these are all sort of gimmicky, but mixed with the right environment, they'd easily be a whole lot of fun.

So, there you have it. Three underused features of the DS just begging to be utilized. Come on, developers, work these into your games! I know it can be done!

Can you think of any other features of the DS that need to be used more? Feel free to speak your mind in the comment section, or in this forum thread.

The Duck Has Spoken.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney review

Without even thinking of it, I basically just recycled the first paragraph of my Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney review in this article. Oh well.

Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Release Date: February 19th, 2008
ESRB Rating: T for Teen
ESRB Notes: Mild Blood, Suggestive Themes, Violent References

If you were to try and think of a profession that would make a great video game, chances are, you wouldn't think attorney. It seems Capcom thinks differently from us, though, since they decided to make Gyakuten Saiban for the Game Boy Advance back in 2001. The game was a huge hit in Japan, spawning two critically-acclaimed sequels. When the DS came out, Capcom smelled money and ported the first game over to Nintendo's new console. With the crazy amounts of success the series received in Japan, Capcom thought it was time to introduce the rest of the world to this quirky new series. The response around the world was incredible, with the now-named Ace Attorney series becoming a huge hit. The second and third games also received ports on the Nintendo DS, both of them just as fun as the first.

Problem was, there were then no more Gyakuten Saiban games to import or remake. What was Capcom to do? The answer was simple: Build a new Ace Attorney from the ground up for the Nintendo DS! And thus, the story of Apollo Justice began.

Speaking of story, the writing in Apollo Justice is just about as sharp as it was in the first three games. The cases are full of twists, many of which are sure to catch players off guard. If there's one downside, though, it's that some of the new characters aren't quite as interesting as those from the past games. It's been seven years since the events of Phoenix Wright Ace Attorney: Trials and Tribulations, meaning many of the familiar faces have moved on with their lives. Larry Butz, Lotta Hart, Maggey Byrde, and many of the other characters series-long fans have grown to love are absent.

Sadly, while many of the new characters are well-written and likable, none of them are quite as interesting or notable as the well-established personalities from the Phoenix Wright saga. It's understandable, though, as it's really hard to improve on the amazing cast from the original series. You can't blame Capcom for falling short of the incredibly high level of character quality established in previous titles.

Trucy, you're adorable, but... You're just not Maya.

To me, one thing that really stood out in Apollo Justice's story-telling is how much foreshadowing there is. It's incredible how much of the first three cases returns in the fourth and final chapter, undoubtedly beating out any Phoenix Wright game for weaving together several separate stories so perfectly.

Being a defense attorney, it's Apollo's duty to defend his client and prove them innocent. In every case but the first, this begins with an investigation phase. During this time, the player can question witnesses, talk with their client, and even go hands-on with the investigation. Much of this phase revolves around finding evidence and presenting it to the right person to coax them into talking. Sure, it's a little unrealistic in that a lawyer never does this sort of thing in real life, but let's not let realism get in the way of fun.

Time for frog lady to meet with Justice!

The game being made ground-up for the DS really shows through in the investigation phase. Several investigative maneuvers such as copying footprints and dusting for fingerprints are now handled by the touchscreen, much like they were in the fifth case of Phoenix Wright: Ace Attorney. Far more interesting than simply reading a description of the item that says "Bears Bob's fingerprints". Of course, that does still happen sometimes, but at least we get to have some fun once in a while.

There's no real problem with this advanced form of evidence gathering, but the lack of time we get to mess around with it sure is. Dusting for fingerprints and getting plaster molds of footprints only happens in the second case, which is a pretty big disappointment. I would have liked to see this higher level of interactivity spread throughout the game more evenly, instead of only experiencing it once or twice in the entire course of the game.

In addition to dusting evidence for prints, players can also investigate a 3d representation of the object to look for clues. Sometimes the most important part of a piece of evidence must be discovered with a hands-on investigation! Finding a drop of blood on an object can change the entire case, so close scrutiny is key.

Once the investigation is through, the real battle begins in the courtroom. The court proceedings in the Ace Attorney world are quite different from that of our law system. It's not so much an organized trial at some points as it is an all-out war, with evidence and testimony serving as ammunition. Certainly far more interesting than what we see in real life!

Certainly a lot more colourful a prosecutor than what you'd see in Law & Order.

The main part of any trial is the cross-examination. It's at this point that the player gets to pick apart the witness' testimony, exposing lies and inconsistencies in pursuit of the truth. The trials are undoubtedly the main attraction in any Ace Attorney game, and they're just as incredibly fun in Apollo Justice as they were in the Phoenix Wright titles.

One new feature exclusive to Apollo Justice is the "Perceive" function. Available only during trials at certain points, the player can focus in on the witness and detect tension. If the witness tenses up during a part of their testimony, the player can press them on that particular phrase and point out that they were subconsciously admitting to a lie. This tensing up can be represented in many ways, such as the witness fiddling with an object they have, sweating, or just a minor twitch. It's a lot like detecting a player's "tell" in poker, figuring out when they're bluffing about having a really good hand. In this game, though, the stakes are far higher than money. Justice hangs in the balance!

However, it seems that the cases aren't quite as difficult on the whole. While the first case is somewhat hard considering how early it is in the game, the overall difficulty is a little lower than past titles. For much of the last case, I could figure out what to present and where to do it on my first try, never earning a penalty. In fact, I think I had more trouble in the first case!

That's not to say that game's a cakewalk, though. There are still some pretty difficult sections. It's just not quite as difficult as some of the previous games.

One of the first things any Ace Attorney veteran will notice when playing Apollo Justice is how much cleaner the graphics are. Benefiting from the DS' increased horsepower, character sprites are much cleaner, and the additional frames in character animations are a huge improvement over the original series' more clunky animation.

Klavier's air guitar solo is a great example of Apollo Justice's improved character animations

In the third case, there's an amazing concert pre-rendered entirely in 3D. The quality of the animation is pretty good, and the video compression is hardly noticeable. Capcom really went the extra mile making this scene. The scene is available on Youtube if you want to see it, but I recommend just waiting until it happens in-game. Seeing it in context is so much more amazing than simply watching it online.

As expected, the music in Apollo Justice is catchy and well made. Several tunes from the Phoenix Wright trilogy have returned, some of which with a few little alterations. And of course, the trademark "OBJECTION!" yells are back, re-recorded with the new voice actors.

Of course, there's also a song played over the aforementioned concert. There are no words, but the melody is great. If the Gavineers were a real band, I'd likely be a fan.

When I first heard that Apollo Justice only had four chapters instead of five, I was a little disappointed. However, in the end, the incredible length of the chapters more than makes up for this. Chapter four was at least two chapters worth of gameplay. As for whether or not I'd play it again, I'd be working on my second play through right this minute if it weren't for the fact my sister's playing it now. As soon as she's done, though, I plan on jumping right back in. Sure, I may know which characters are lying and where to present evidence, but it would still be great to experience the story one more time.


Storyline: 9.0/10
The cases are just as creative as they were in the original trilogy, with more twists and turns than a pretzel factory. However, most of the new characters just aren't as likable as the cast of the first three games. I just hope that we get some more interesting people occupying the inevitable sequel.

Gameplay: 9.5/10
Investigating and defending are as fun as ever, although compared to the Phoenix Wright games, Apollo Justice is a little on the easy side. Dusting for prints and using plaster to gather footprints is a welcome change of pace, however it only really pops up in one case. Still one heck of a great game, though.

Graphics: 9.25/10
I absolutely love the art style in all the Ace Attorney games, and with that being said, I was incredibly pleased with how Apollo Justice turned out visually. The occasional 3D parts are all very good-looking as well, and that one concert scene is just stunning.

Audio: 9.0/10
The Ace Attorney games have always been a pleasure to listen to, and Apollo Justice is no exception. With amazingly well orchestrated background music and the trademark "OBJECTION!" flying out of my DS speakers, I can safely say that Apollo Justice is a real treat for the ears.

Longevity: 9.0/10
Despite having only four cases, Apollo Justice still lasts just about as long as any other Ace Attorney title. Even though, after your first play through, you'll know what evidence to present and where, it's still worth another go just for the great writing.

OVERALL: 9.0/10
Apollo Justice is yet another worthy entry in the Ace Attorney series. The incredible writing and plentiful twists really pulled me in, making me unable to put it down until I discovered the truth. If you want a good, thinking-man's game, Apollo Justice: Ace Attorney is the right game for you.

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