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The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword (Wii)

Proves motion control is not just for casual games.

The Good
When the Wii system was first released late in 2006, one of its initial launch titles was an all-new Zelda fans had been waiting anxiously for since being unveiled at E3 2004. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, initially meant as a swan song for the GameCube, was also released on Wii to take advantage of the Wii's capabilities. This move provided a perfect opportunity to please people who preferred a more traditional control scheme, as well as those interested in seeing how motion controls could work in a major installment in a household name in gaming.

The result didn't disappoint. The Wii version was every bit as playable, if not even more, than its GameCube counterpart. Pointing staple weapons of the series, such as the slingshot and bow, was much more intuitive when you had the ability to simply point at the targets on the screen.

After the initial novelty of motion control had died down somewhat, however, it became more and more apparent that the game had not reached the full potential of what motion controls could do to expand upon an established core experience. In the end, it was obvious the game was initially designed with the GameCube in mind. The motion controls worked fine, but were simply tacked on a ported GameCube game during the later stages of development. In other words: the game was not designed with motion control in mind.

That's were Skyward Sword comes in, a game designed fully around the Wii's motion controls. As such, you will have to be in possession of either the Wii Remote Plus, or the Motion Plus adapter for the old Wii Remote. The extra investment is worth it, though, as it provides an unprecedented sense of involvement with Link's quest. Now you arm movement is translated 1:1 on the screen. The control scheme is used in many innovative and engaging ways. Instead of having to simply perform a simple wrist movement to plow through legions of monsters, like in Twilight Princess, you have to watch your enemies closely and look for an opening in their defenses to knock them down. Whether you throw objects by making a flinging motion, use a bowling motion to roll a bomb in a small hole or lift your Remote in the air to charge your sword with a divine power, it all makes you feel like you are really doing everything that Link does, rather than making him do it for you. It may seem like a mostly cosmetic difference at first, but the heroic feeling you get after beating the first few monsters with your own movements is something I never felt in a game before and needs to be experienced to fully comprehend it. This is the much-needed innovation promised back in 2006. It's a shame it took until near the end of the Wii's lifespan to get it done right, but this is the game that proves motion controls can also work for core experiences like Zelda.

Story-wise, the game is a prequel to earlier games. While the chronology of the games might not always be consistent, Nintendo avoids confusion this time around by placing it at the very beginning of the series. The kingdom of Hyrule, so often seen in other installments in the series, has not yet been established, and is a dangerous world filled with evil creatures. After an ancient war over the possession of the series' supreme relic, the Triforce, the land's patron goddess, Hylia, sends her people into the sky. Together with the Triforce, the people live on a set of islands floating in the sky. After many centuries, the old surface world has become but a legend. Unreachable because of a barrier of clouds, many now believe it doesn't even exist.

Link, the protagonist, is a student at the Knight Academy in Skyloft, his hometown between the clouds. The titular Zelda is not a princess yet, but the daughter of headmaster Gaepora (whose name is another indication for fans that this is indeed a prequel). Other characters include Groose, a bully who is like a mixture between Biff Tannen from Back to the Future and Harry Potter's Draco Malfoy (complete with two goons) and the main villain Ghirahim, a creepy yet flamboyant character, hell-bent on reviving his demonic master. Link has to traverse various regions, above and below the clouds, to thwart his plans and find the missing Zelda. The story goes from an initial high school love triangle to an epic high fantasy quest that is a mixture of old and new that only Nintendo can balance out so delicately. This is a major improvement over Twilight Princess, which hearkened back to the Nintendo 64's iconic Ocarina of Time a little too much.

The quest leads Link to four areas. First is the Sky, which he can traverse by means of his Loftwing, a bird that acts as his steed. Then there are three surface areas: the Faron Woods, a lush green area full of life, the fiery Eldin Volcano and Lanayru Desert, where the remnants of an old civilization still exist. Each of these four areas is distinctly different. The Sky area acts as a hub from which the other three can be accessed. This is a sharp departure from previous Zelda titles, where the whole overworld was a more open-ended area. In this game the overworld doesn't feel like one piece, but more like its cut in pieces. You'll go back to each of these areas multiple times to do a quest or discover a new part previously unexplored. Each area is a bit more condensed than in older Zeldas, but there is much more to do. Puzzles are much less reserved for the dungeons and are also found outside.

Speaking of the dungeons, they are top-notch this time around. This is where the motion controls truly shine. Whether you swing from your whip across a chasm like Indiana Jones or have a sword duel with an armoured skeleton, the Wii Remote becomes any item you will need. I will not spoil everything, but the by far best Zelda item in many years is a remote controlled beetle that can fly. You can send it into tiny holes to grab items Link cannot reach. The MotionPlus technology gives very precise control over the direction in which the beetle is going and it is simply a joy to use it. Each of the items allow for a different way to use the Wii Remote in a way that simply wasn't possible before. This comes into play especially well in boss fights. Sometimes its a sword duel that requires you to study your opponents movements closely. Another battle has you pulling the limbs of a giant robot with a whip or cutting of the tentacles of a huge sea monster on a pirate ship. Each dungeon is unique and has a boss battle that utilizes the Wii Remote to its fullest. I will even go as far as to say that Skyward Sword has the best dungeons and certainly the best boss fights in the entire series.

But the innovation goes even beyond motion controls. Even familiar dungeon puzzles, like hitting a set of switches in a particular order or defeating a number of enemies to unlock a door, are somehow expanded upon to feel fresh. The coolest puzzles of all, however, are found in the Lanayru Desert in the form of Timeshift Stones. Hitting these stones, reverts the area within a small radius around them into an age centuries ago, when the desert was a still a lush, green, technologically advanced area. Broken robots come to life, flowers bloom and machines start functioning. This allows for very interesting and fun puzzles that are amongst the most clever in the entire series.

The whole main quest takes about twenty hours to complete, but then there are still hearts to collect, Goddess Cubes to destroy, unlocking treasure chests up in the sky, bugs to catch, weapons and armour to upgrade and quests to complete for Skyloft's residents. If you want to complete everything you can double the number of hours, giving you plenty of reason to dust off your aging Wii. And there's an unlockable hard mode as well.

Something that is very unique is the graphical style. It takes elements from the realistic style of Twilight Princess and Ocarina of Time and blends it with the cartoonish cell-shading of Wind Waker to create something that is both unique yet familiar, regardless of what Zelda titles you've already played. The most interesting thing about this style, however, is the impressionistic style, inspired by nineteenth-century masters such as Cezanne. When seen from afar, the environments blur into colourful dots like in pointillistic paintings. It's both beautiful and masks the limitations of the Wii system. Much like Cezanne, Van Gogh or Gauguin in their time, Nintendo overcomes artistic limitations by simply blurring them without everything becoming ugly. While it may not be as impressive as the detailed style of Twilight Princess or the interactive comic book that is Wind Waker, Nintendo still manages to come up with a style that suits the game and has its own kind of beauty that sets it apart from other Zeldas. I found the rich use of colours refreshing after the somewhat dark tones of Twilight Princess.

The whole presentation is complemented by an orchestral score. While the compositions themselves may not always be as good as in previous Zelda titles, the fact that we have them orchestrated is something that makes up for it. Each piece fits its area or scene perfectly and you recognize the love that went into it.

The Bad
To stick with the topic of music, it's not as much of a part of the gameplay as we've come to expect from a Zelda game, which is sad. In Ocarina of Time or Majora's Mask you could control time itself and in Wind Waker you could change the direction of the wind. In Skyward Sword, it's only used in puzzles here and there or to find secret treasures, but not in a huge, game-changing way, which is kind of a disappointment.

Another missed opportunity was the lack of a truly open-ended world. This was one of the main attractions of previous Zelda games. In this game you are stuck with four separate regions not directly connected to each other. This is a shame as the sky and surface areas would have been a perfect opportunity to fly freely over forests and mountains on your bird. Instead, you get to parachute into holes in the clouds to the world below. It could have been even better than the joy or riding on horseback in previous titles, and would have made getting around much easier.

The number of boring 'fetch-quests' is incredibly annoying. As good as the dungeons are, much of the overworld is done through some kind of lame uninspired collection quest. Most notable is the Silent Realm, in which you try to collect little drops called Goddess Tears. At first the stealth-based gameplay is lots of fun, but after multiple times it gets old. The rest of the quests in between dungeons usually don't go any further than using your sword as a dowsing machine to collect five shards of a key or a searching for a missing object. In Twilight Princess or Wind Waker quests like these were some of the most hated parts of the game, so it is a mystery why there is even more of them than ever in this game. At first I liked how the game seemed to make each visit to a particular area different, but after a while the challenges presented became rather repetitious.

The thing that you will likely hate most, though, is Fi. Fi is like Navi the fairy was in Ocarina of Time, and provides you with useful advise. But, goodness, she can be so annoying, she makes even the infamous Navi seem like heaven. The character itself is not the biggest problem. The robotic speech is hilarious and Fi's design is downright gorgeous. The irritating part is that she is a little bit too helpful at times. You can ask her for extra hints, which is optional, but I doubt you will need it much, because she often spoils the fun for you by almost giving the solution away. Oftentimes you can figure a puzzle out without Fi's constant stating of the obvious. I even found myself figuring a puzzle out before Fi even started to direct me towards the likely solution.

While the motion controls usually work flawlessly, they do not always work well in a few situations. Particularly the rolling motion in which you roll bombs like a bowling ball is often not registered. On rare occasions you might need to calibrate the MotionPlus again, although this is done really quickly and is not a major nuisance at all.

The Bottom Line
Skyward Sword breaks new ground for motion-controlled gameplay that will be built upon by video game designers for years to come. Once again the Zelda series revolutionizes the same basic overworld-dungeon formula that has existed for over 25 years. The fact that it also does take a few steps backwards keeps it from transcending the quality of the other 3D Zelda titles. When all is said and done, however, it still stands proudly among the classics in Nintendo's iconic franchise.

By Rensch on August 24, 2012

Xenoblade Chronicles (Wii)

A massive and highly ambitious game that is truly stunning in many ways!

The Good
It is sometimes said that the best games on a system appear at the end of its lifespan. Developers have had several years to get to know the hardware, which results in high-quality games. In the case of the Wii, Xenoblade Chronicles is an example of a game that could back up that claim. On a system that is often criticized for lacking a substantial hardcore library, Xenoblade Chronicles delivers an unusually ambitious hardcore experience that is among the best titles on any system of its generation.

The JRPG genre is suffering in recent years. Gamers demand innovations in a genre that has become littered with cliches. Along comes Xenoblade Chronicles, a game that not only takes some JRPG conventions, but also greatly expands upon them, making for a surprisingly fresh gaming experience, without ruining the classic JRPG feel.

The most unusual thing about this game is its setting. Xenoblade takes place on the dead corpses of two ancient titans: the Bionis and the Mechonis. The Bionis is the god of organic life, and is such littered with grassy plains, forests, animals and intelligent life. The Mechonis, on the other hand, is a being that represents the power of technology and is therefor populated by the Mechon, a robotic people. The Mechon wage war with the peoples of the Bionis.

Amidst this conflict we find Shulk, the protagonist of the game. Shulk researches the strange features of the Monado, an ancient sword, which is the only weapon that can effectively damage the metal-clad Mechon. And, guess what, Shulk ends up being the heir to the Monado and quickly finds himself on a quest to avenge a friend killed by the Mechon. The Monado will be an indispensable weapon in Shulk's quest.

This quest takes the player to a world that is so massive and so full of things to do, it needs to be seen to be believed. This is, as far as I know, the largest game world on the Wii by far. Not only is it huge, it is also a visual blast, both from a technical and artistic standpoint. Spectacular views from afar of valleys, cities and mountains are everywhere. From the bustling streets of Colony 9 to the vast expanse of Gaur Plain and from thick trees of Makna Forest to the mechanical views of the Mechnonis, it's all extremely well designed, enormously expansive and full of atmosphere and variation. Xenoblade is easily one of the Wii's best looking games. While it may have looked better on PS3 or Xbox 360, it compensates for the shortcomings of the system it is on with its amazing art direction.

The game world is inhabited by many creatures to battle. There are no random fights, but some monsters may attack if you get close. Others need to be attacked or lured towards you to engage in a fight. The battles themselves are pretty deep. The characters automatically use attacks, but more damage can be done with special attacks executed from the battle menu. If you build up enough power, you can execute a chain attack, allowing you to combine attacks from different characters. While you normally only control your lead character, these chain attack events allow you to pick an attack for all three on-screen heroes. For example, if one attack inflicts the 'Break' status, it can be followed by a move that inflicts 'Topple', and then followed by an attack inducing 'Daze' allowing you to more damage.

Another important feature is 'affinity'. This indicates how much characters trust each other and comes into play during battles, making it easier for you to execute powerful attacks, as well as in other situations involving NPC's and quests. Furthermore, certain skills can be linked, making their effects usable for more characters than just the user. These linked skills are also powered up by a good affinity level between the characters involved.

The Monado is full of cool powers, but the most significant one is the power to see into the near future. This allows for a fun and unusual gameplay mechanic. Because Shulk can see into the future, he can foresee attacks before they happen and prevent them from happening. This is one of the coolest features of the game and really makes it feel unique.

Besides the main quest, the game holds much more secrets for the player to discover as well as many side-quests to complete and achievements to meet. While the main quest alone packs a good fifty hours or so, completing everything this massive game has to offer will take you at least a hundred. The pacing in the game is always relaxed, and if you don't feel like playing the main quest, you can easily skip to areas previously visited via the map screen and go do some quests, or just enjoy exploring the massive game world.

The characters are very customizable, with a lot of armour to equip, weapons to choose from and power-boosting gems to craft, all of which are reflected both in-game as well as in one of the many cutscenes.

The musical score is among the best on the Wii. The beautiful orchestrated soundtrack perfectly captures every area of the game and greatly adds to the overall epic feel of the game. The characters themselves have cool British accents, all of which are fitting their design and personality. Original Japanese voices can be turned on as well, which is a nice touch. Both settings feature subtitles in English.

The Bad
The characters are rather cliche. Shulk, for example, is the stereotype of a JRPG protagonist: orphaned, blonde hair, slightly androgynous, torn by trauma and carrying a huge sword. And it does not stop there. Particularly Reyn, Shulk's best buddy, is the classic bold and brash guy with big muscles, a short temper but also a heart of gold. It's not that the characters are not likable, they just feel familiar to the JRPG fan.

While the game is stunning from a distance, the textures and characters look a little blurry up close and there are some rough edges revealed. If there is a lot going on during a battle with multiple enemies on-screen, some slowdown might occur. Thankfully, this is rare.

The lines the characters shout during battles are repeated a little too often. After a while you heard all of them. Their cheesiness, which is charming only for a while, doesn't help either.

The Bottom Line
A major achievement in both scale, visuals, artistic direction, music and gameplay innovations. This is the best JRPG of the past few years, and a title not to be missed by any Wii owner. Xenoblade Chronicles is proof that an ambitious and innovative hardcore experience can find its home on the Wii, even though the system is in its later years.

By Rensch on August 30, 2011

Mega Man 2 (NES)

Platform gaming in its finest, most pure form!

The Good
The Nintendo Entertainment System was where the platform genre reigned back in the late 80's and early 90's. The grey, 8-bit beast saved console gaming with Nintendo's own pack-in smash hit Super Mario Bros., probably the most recognisable game in existence.

Many companies tried to make their own platform gaming hits on the NES in an attempt to mimic the quality of Nintendo's game. Some were successful, many were not. One of the games in the first category was Capcom's Mega Man, a challenging action-platformer praised by gamers for its tight controls, pretty graphics, great music and challenging level design. It's most clever and distinguishing feature, though, was its rock-paper-scissors system, wherein each weapon you got from a defeated boss robot was strong against one of his companions in another level.

While a great game, the commercial success of the game was fairly moderate. Capcom didn't think it was successful enough to warrant a sequel. The game's creator, Keiji Inafune, however, still saw potential in the series, and begged that the company would allow him to produce a sequel. His wish was granted under the condition that he and his team would develop the game solely in their spare time, keeping the focus on more urgent projects.

Inafune agreed, and boy, was it a great decision. The result was Mega Man 2, released in 1988, a year after the first game. It was a game that improved upon its predecessor in many ways and quickly turned into the smash hit Capcom had been looking for a year before.

The story is simple: Dr. Wily, the evil scientist Mega Man defeated in the first game, has escaped prison to resume his plans for world domination. Mega Man goes after him. In order to stop Mega Man, Dr. Wily has built eight more Robot Masters, similar to the ones Mega Man fought in the original.

The game is mostly similar to the first game. Like in that game, Mega Man needs to traverse a series of levels at the end of which he must defeat the Robot Master. An important addition in this game was the fact that there are eight of these as opposed to the six in the original game. Ever since this game, eight Robot Masters has been the standard for the series.

The eight bosses include: Air Man, Wood Man, Quick Man, Flash Man, Bubble Man, Crash Man, Metal Man and Heat Man. Like in the first title, you can select which level to start with and beat all of them in whichever order you like. Each boss, however, has a weakness to at least one of the weapons you receive after beating one of his buddies, forcing you to figure out which item works best on which bosses. As a result, playing the levels in a certain specific order makes the bosses much easier to defeat than with Mega Man's basic arm cannon. The weapons range from a boomerang to a saw blade and from a bubble gun to bombs. This rock-paper-scissors system is something you don't see often in the platform genre. Figuring out this order is one of the most fun elements in any Mega Man game.

This element also comes back during your trips throughout the levels themselves. Each level has its own tricky parts but figuring out how to avoid certain difficulties using specific weapons is half of the fun and it adds up to the game's replay value. Each world reflects the theme of the boss that resides in it. From Bubble Man's stage, which is largely underwater, to the fiery bowels of Heat Man's stage and from Metal Man's steel factory to Wood Man's jungle, each stage has its own distinctive theme, traps and enemies. There is lots of variation and each level is unique and designed with care. They are designed in a way that is challenging but not unfair or overly frustrating.

An major addition is that you can collect certain items that allow you to create helpful platforms. While something slightly similar was available in the first game, this is the game that really worked it out as a game-changing feature. There are three to collect: a flying surfing board, inflatable platforms that stick to walls and platforms flying upwards. Later games would implement these kind of features in the form of the robot dog Rush, but this is the game wherein it first made its big mark on the series. Another addition that originates in this game are the collectible energy tanks, making the game more manageable because they allow you to replenish Mega Man's health.

Controls are tight and responsive, which is something you badly need in this game. While not as tough as the first game, Mega Man 2 is by no means an easy game when you first boot it up. It really feels like a platformer in its purest form. Mega Man can't jump as far or as high as Mario, but he has a trusty arm cannon and shooting is a much more important part of the game than in Nintendo's franchise. Quick reflexes and quick decisions are pivotal to survive, especially when you defeat the eight bosses and infiltrate Dr. Wily's challenging fortress, which is split up into several levels. Thankfully, this game also introduces a password system to the series, allowing you to continue where you left off.

Graphically, Mega Man 2 looks similar to the first game. That was a very pretty game for its time, however. While Mega Man's sprites and animations where reused, they are so well-designed you don't mind. Heck, his original design would be used in many sequels after it, spanning various systems. It is still to be found in Mega Man sequels in recent years, such as Mega Man 10, which is a testimony to how defining the graphical style in these early titles truly was. In an age when many games had empty backgrounds, Mega Man 2 impressed with detailed and animated background textures. The game has vibrant colours, detailed character designs and fluid animations.

Sound is just as impressive. As far as 8-bit music goes, there are few games that sound better than this one. The theme that plays in Dr. Wily stage 1 and 2 is a fan favourite. Mega Man 2 has one of the most impressive, if not THE most impressive 8-bit soundtrack.

The Bad
Certain items make some hard parts ridiculously easy. In Heat Man's stage, for example, there is a very difficult part wherein you need to navigate across disappearing platforms over a huge chasm. Anyone who's ever played a Mega Man game will recognize these sequences as some of the most challenging parts of the game. When you whip out Mega Man's surfboard, however, you can completely skip this whole sequence.

This also makes the rock-paper-scissors mechanic in this game unbalanced. Once you defeat Metal Man and receive his weapon, the Metal Blade, the whole game is a lot easier. The Metal Blade is incredibly powerful against half of the bosses, including Metal Man himself. It can shoot in eight directions and doesn't deplete as quickly as other items. Some bosses are weak to multiple weapons, while others have just one weakness. This makes the order in which to beat the levels really vague and not as clear as in the other Mega Man games.

Another weapon-related issue comes in the form of the Crash Bomber. This weapon is powerful against two of the later bosses but it depletes so quickly, it most likely forces you to lose all your lives and then choose continue. This replenishes your Crash Bombs but forces you to replay the entire level as well. And naturally, these later levels are anything but easy.

The western release has an easy mode for beginners, but the difference is barely noticeable most of the time. There are a few enemies and bosses that take a few extra hits, but that's about it. It feels like it was rushed into the game at the last moment, right before the western release.

The Bottom Line
Out of the enormous library of NES platformers, choosing the good ones can be difficult. With Mega Man 2, however, you can't go wrong. It is not the hardest game in the series but that makes it a good point to start and it certainly is not an easy game either. Many still consider this game the series' peak. While some say that Mega Man 3 is better, Mega Man 2 is certainly one of the most defining of the Blue Bomber's adventures, and a game that no platform gaming fan should be without.

By Rensch on February 23, 2011

Chrono Trigger (Nintendo DS)

Still a timeless and masterful RPG that doesn't feel dated at all, regardless of whether you're a newcomer or a veteran.

The Good
The role-playing game (RPG) genre is not quite the most accessible genre in video games. Some older games like the early entries in the Final Fantasy series feel dated and are incredibly hard by today's standards. Random battles every few steps and constantly leveling up your characters keep the pace out of these old RPG's. There are a few exceptions to this rule though, and Chrono Trigger is probably the finest example of an older RPG that is still accessible and fun to play to this very day. And it does an amazing job at storytelling, too.

Released in 1995 for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System, Chrono Trigger was a big breath of fresh air for RPG fans and newcomers alike. While still being a traditional RPG at its core, it reinvented the genre in several ways and made it much more accessible and playable to those unfamiliar with it.

That is, for those living in Japan and North America. Players in places such as Europe or Australia never got to play this game, resulting in it being one of the most sought-after SNES games. Even if you could find a copy of the game on Ebay, you had to cough up some serious dough for it. The PlayStation version released a few years later suffered the same fate and also had some technical issues as it was a rather badly ported edition of the game. It was not until 2009 that Square-Enix released it in these territories via the new DS port. And this time it was ported correctly.

So what makes this game hold up so much even to a European like me who plays it for the first time ever? Well, One of the things Chrono Trigger does different is that it eliminates the random battles other RPG's constantly throw at you. Instead, you see your foes walking around the various areas of the game and you can just approach them whenever you want to fight them directly on the map. In other words: There is no battle screen. Sometimes you can even avoid them by simply walking past them, without the fear of enemies popping up out of nowhere all the time. Another massive RPG-annoyance that Chrono Trigger doesn't have is that you don't have to do too much additional leveling of your characters. Usually you can figure out the correct strategy to defeat a boss after a few tries. In many other RPG's, like Final Fantasy or Pokémon, you often end up under-leveled forcing you to grind up your experience level, which usually takes hours of boring and repetitive gameplay. In Chrono Trigger however, this only happens scarcely, keeping the pace in the game intact.

Instead, Chrono Trigger takes the time to tell a compelling story about time-travel and the quest to save mankind from certain doom. You take control of Crono, a young boy living in the year 1000 A.D. In the case of this game that means 1000 years after the establishment of the kingdom of Guardia where Chrono lives. While visiting the Millennial Fair in commemoration of the 1000th anniversary of the kingdom, Crono stumbles upon Marle, a cute yet mysterious girl who keeps him company while he checks out his inventress friend Lucca's teleporting device. After Crono is successfully teleported, Marle wants to try it out as well. However, things go horribly awry when Marle's blue pendant reacts to the teleporter and creates a rift in time and space, sending Marle back in time. Crono is determined to save Marle and goes after her. This is only the beginning of one of the most engaging video gaming quests ever made. Little does Crono know that he eventually doesn't have to save only a girl but the very future of mankind.

After a few hours of gameplay you will strand in the year 2300 A.D. where you will find a grim and devastated, post-apocalyptic future. Computers rule supreme and the few humans who still live hide in the ruins of what were once their cities. You will find out that this is the fault of a mysterious being called Lavos who destroyed civilization in the year 1999 A.D. However, since you have the ability to travel through time, you can prevent this from happening.

The story spans across several different time periods:
- Prehistory (65.000.000 B.C.): This is an age when humans and the dinosaur-like Reptites fight for supremacy over the planet.
- Antiquity/Ice Age (12.000 B.C.): Here you will find a frozen age when an evil sorcerer queen rules on floating islands above the heavens. This is an advanced age where magic and technology go hand in hand. Those who do not possess magic powers however, live under oppression and are forced to live on the cold tundras on the ground.
- Middle Ages (600 A.D.): After following Marle you get sent to a dark age where noble knights fight a war against the hordes of Magus, the evil Fiendlord.
- Present (1000 A.D.): This is an age where everything is happy and peaceful. This is where the game starts.
- The Cataclysm (1999 A.D.): An ancient evil ascents from the bowels of the earth and destroys civilization in a giant holocaust. This is what you must prevent from happening.
- Future (2300 A.D.): This is a gloomy age after the great destruction in 1999 A.D. Computers and robots now rule the earth while the last remnants of humanity are losing all hope.
- End of Time: This acts like a hub where all of time's flows come together. From here you can travel back in time to all ages previously visited.

Each world has its own unique look and feel and sometimes you can trigger an event that alters history. This can have an effect on the course of history and when you travel into the future, something might be changed in a later age. While this aspect doesn't affect the game in a huge, game-changing way, it does play an important role in the plot of the game and which out of more than a dozen different endings you get.

This forces you to travel through the various ages finding allies and level them up and eventually travel to 1999 A.D. to destroy Lavos before he can destroy human civilization. There are seven different playable characters in total:
- Crono: This is the silent protagonist of the game. He has spiky hair and carries a huge katana sword around.
- Marle: A mysterious girl whom Crono meets at the Millennial Fair in his hometown.
- Lucca: Crono's best friend and a brilliant inventress. Everything technological is her area of expertise.
- Frog: A knight from the middle ages who is turned into a frog by his nemesis, the evil Fiendlord Magus.
- Robo: A robot from the year 2300 A.D. Lucca, Marle and Crono find him completely broken. After repairing him, Lucca reprograms him. This results in Robo being much more human than one would think from his appearance.
- Ayla: A prehistoric chieftain. She has to struggle against the evil Azala and his reptites for supremacy over the planet.
- Magus: The evil Fiendlord that wages war against the king of Guardia in 600 A.D. This is an important enemy in the game, but it is possible to use him as a playable character as well.

Each character can use a basic physical attack using a weapon such as a sword. But there are also the so-called techs. These are more powerful moves but some may consume magic points. Magical techs can be learned by Crono (lighting), Marle (ice), Frog (water), Lucca (fire) and Magus (shadow) The latter can use some of the other characters' magical techs as well. Ayla and Robo can't use magical techs but will still learn rather powerful physical techs instead.

You can never have more than three characters with you, but you can freely swap them outside battles. It's important to think about what combinations to use as they influence what techs will be available. There are special techs called double techs and triple techs. Double techs have two characters join their forces to create more powerful attacks. Triple techs even combine the powers of three characters for truly devastating moves. Naturally, these double and triple techs consume much more magic power. This adds lots of depth and fun to the game without making it overly complicated.

The battle system is a variation of the Active Time Battle system from Final Fantasy where you have to wait until your time bar fills up before you can use another attack. Fast characters like Crono will be quicker to attack than slower ones like Lucca. The way you fight enemies on the map directly, instead of a battle screen like in most RPG's, gives this game an added touch. Many enemies keep on walking around during battles. You might want to wait before you attack until all your enemies are close together, then attack them all at once using a wide-range tech. This gives a new layer of depth to the game that many other RPG's don't have.

Purists can still use the old controls but using the new DS touch-control scheme works like a dream. You can find attacks much quicker since all the menus have their own screen and simply tapping them gives you a much quicker and much more intuitive way to attack. This is very useful in a battle system like this, which is not completely turn-based like in games such as Pokémon.

Other than that Chrono Trigger leaves most RPG-conventions intact. There are still numerous equipment items to find and you will still crawl through dungeons, visit towns and defeat the occasional boss. However, it is just much less complicated and much more fun than in many other RPG's from the 90's.

Visually, it's mostly the character designs that stand out. Particularly the bosses show some truly impressive sprite work. Even now they are very nice to look at. The reason for this may be the fact that they were designed by Akira Toriyama, who is best known for his famous Dragon Ball comics. Many characters in Chrono Trigger resemble characters from those comics. Take Crono for example, he looks a lot like Goku, Dragon Ball's protagonist. Marle and Lucca show some similarities to Bulma while many of the bosses reminded me of Dragon Ball villains. It's nice to see Akira Toriyama's unique style shine through and fans of his comic books will appreciate that.

It's not just their appearance though. Chrono Trigger is one of those few games that actually make you fall in love with the characters. When something sad happens, you feel sorry for them. When the cute and cheerful Marle gets all excited about something you get excited as well. When Robo turns out to be much more human than many flesh-and-blood characters in the game, you feel touched at an emotional level. While the story itself is nice, it is the characters that really make it come alive. Like many of SquareSoft's (now Square-Enix) RPG's they are all likable, believable characters with different character traits, likes and dislikes.

The quest is long, fun to play and engaging. There are several side-quests, colourful worlds, and many different endings (including all-new DS-exclusive ones) to unlock to keep you occupied, even after completing the game once. Several new areas en features have been added to the original game as well to make this version longer and better than ever. Notable is the Dimensional Vortex, a new, extra long, extra hard dungeon unlocked by beating the main quest once. Furthermore, there is a little monster battling game called the Arena of the Ages, that you can play against friends. Pokémon this ain't, but it is nice to see the developers taking time to add something to an already great package. What fans of the original may or may not like is the new transation. For newcomers at least, it is much more accurate than in the console versions, but purists may be slightly dissapointed with this. There are new endings and you can find a media gallery featuring official art for the game and a theatre function that includes those pretty cut-scenes from the PlayStation version to watch whenever you want. You can also listen to the amazing sound track of this game anytime you want.

Composed by Yasunori Mitsuda with assistance of Final Fantasy composer Nobuo Uematsu, the sound track is seriously impressive. While it may sound a bit dated from a technical viewpoint, the compositions still hold up so incredibly well, you won't mind at all. From the epic main theme to the rustic theme in 1000 A.D. and from the cheerful theme of the Millennial Fair to the foreboding theme of Lavos, every song fits its scene seamlessly and creates the perfect atmosphere for every situation you come across in the game. Most impressive!

The sound effects are OK. Perhaps they are a bit dated by today's standards, but for something coming from the SNES they are surprisingly good.

The Bad
While the characters still look nice, the environments are not nearly as impressive today as they were back in the SNES age and the map screen looks downright dated. While by no means an ugly game, it is unfortunate to see nothing has been done to give the game a graphical upgrade. When you look at the impressive 3D remakes of Final Fantasy games on DS, it's kind of a letdown to see that Chrono Trigger looks exactly the same as in 1995, regardless of how visually impressive the game was back then. While I personally would not have liked the chibi style used in the Final Fantasy remakes, they could have at least polished up the edges that have become rough over the years. Don't get me wrong, it holds up well, but it could have been even better, especially if you're a European, like me, and the game is still all-new to you.

While I love how they retained the anime cut-scenes from the PlayStation version in the DS version, there's only so much of them. This is a shame as the game is so full of memorable moments, you just wish you could see more of them rendered in those pretty anime clips as well.

The Bottom Line
Chrono Trigger is amazing! Whether you are a veteran looking for the definitive edition of the game, or if you've never played it before and are just curious why all the yanks go all crazy about this game, you owe it to yourself to pick it up. It is truly one of the most impressive, if not THE most impressive RPG quest ever.

With a colourful world, lovable characters, excellent storyline, long and engaging quest, fantastic sound track and a battle system that is better and more accessible than ever before, there is no reason not to pick up this timeless classic!

By Rensch on August 2, 2010

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (Wii)

The biggest Zelda to date but also one of the less creative ones.

The Good
The Zelda series has come a long way. From the early 2D games to the epic 3D quests such as Ocarina of Time, The Legend of Zelda is one of the main household names in video games.

When the GameCube was first shown, a short clip was shown with protagonist Link fighting his nemesis Ganondorf. While this was only a tech demo of what the system could do, it became the basic outline of what people expected a future Zelda game for the system would look like. How different this turned out to be...

In 2003 Nintendo finally brought the series to GameCube with The Wind Waker, a game that was visually nothing like the older games. Instead of the mature and naturalistic style seen in games like Ocarina of Time, gamers got a cartoony cell-shaded world with a big-eyed Link that looked like he stepped right out of a Disney cartoon. While fans were sceptical at first, they soon grew to love this new style and appreciated it just as much as the old style. In its own way, it was just as stunning as Ocarina of Time was for its time.

While many fans loved this graphical overhaul, they also expressed their fears that their much-loved traditional Link would sink into the mists of video game history. Those fans were put at ease, however, as Nintendo made their largest Zelda epic yet also the most realistic-looking ever made. The result of their labour was The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess.

This game, released in late 2006, was the GameCube's swan song while also the first major classic for the brand new Wii system. While originally made for just the GameCube, Nintendo decided to use the Wii controls to their advantage and publish a Wii version as well. Motion controls would require Link to hold his sword in his right hand for gameplay convenience, while he had always been left-handed. As a result, the Wii version is the complete mirror image of the GameCube version. It doesn't affect the game one bit, though, so you wont mind at all.

In Twilight Princess, the land of Hyrule is slowly being swallowed by a strange veil of Twilight. This curse reduces those who dwell in it to mere spirits. Only one is not transformed into a spirit. That one is a young man named Link. Instead, he turns into a wolf. Aided by a mysterious creature called Midna, Link must travel Hyrule in both wolf form as well as his human form and eventually face off against Zant, the evil King of Twilight.

The variation between the two forms becomes more important as you keep on progressing through the story. In the later phases of the game you will be forced to continually alter between the two forms to solve puzzles, reach certain areas and fight different foes. This creates two different ways to approach the obstacles in the game making the game much more interesting. It's comparable to the child/adult mechanic from Ocarina of Time and especially the mask transformations from Majora's Mask. As a wolf Link can't use items but he can use a charge attack, walk along ropes, bite foes, use his wolf senses to see hidden secrets and invisible foes as well as dig with his paws.

When he's a human Link can use his usual arsenal of items including old favorites such as the bow, clawshot, sword, bombs etc. There's also a few new ones. The most interesting one is the Spinner. This gear-shaped device allows Link to move along tracks on walls to reach far-off areas. It is too bad it's used rather sporadically as it is one of the most creative and fun items in the series. This item should be brought back in later titles.

The progression of the game is rather linear. You go from town to field to dungeon and then to the next town. There are several different provinces divided in many different areas, most of which are familiar such as Death Mountain, Lake Hylia, the forest, Gerudo Desert and Hyrule Castle Town.

In each province there are one or two dungeons. Ranging from the lava-filled mines of the Goron Tribe to the fish-like Zora's Lakebed Temple, each of the dungeons has its own distinct look and feel. They are full of brain-teasing puzzles, hidden treasures and interesting monsters. My favourite one is a town that floats in the sky like an airship.

At the end of each dungeon there is a boss. The bosses seen in this game are some of the most impressive ones ever. They are gigantic and give the fights an epic David vs. Goliath feel unprecedented in the series.

Visually the game is impressive. While it is clear the game was originally a GameCube game, it still looks very nice on Wii and the GameCube version is probably the most visually impressive game on that system, anyway. Even though it is not perfect from a technical point of view on Wii, it's got an atmosphere, artistic approach and attention to detail rarely, if at all, seen in any Nintendo game. Especially the Twilight looks very impressive from an artistic point of view with gloomy dark clouds and a strange feeling of half-light. You really need to see it for yourself to truly grasp what I mean. The dungeons and buildings are also a marvel of visual design

The music is some of the best in the series. It is too bad it's not fully orchestrated but it is some of the best music MIDI can offer. From the epic tunes of Hyrule Field to the dark and gloomy theme of the haunted Arbiter's Grounds, it's all varied and fitting.

Twilight Princess is one of the best Zelda games when it comes to characters and their development. There are some lovable characters in there that are hard to forget. The most notable is your main companion Midna, a very sarcastic and witty creature from the Twilight World. She is like Navi in Ocarina of Time but far more interesting and much cooler. (As well as far less annoying.) As the game progresses you'll find out more about her mysterious origins. She needs your help to defeat Zant. Zant is the King who conquered the Twilight Realm and now wants to conquer the Light World as well and dethrone princess Zelda. Some supporting characters are just funny such as Talo, a little kid of about 4 years old who is actually much more intelligent than most of the adults in the game and he turns out to be a great entrepreneur.

The quest is long and engaging and the world is bigger than ever before. The sheer scope of the overworld begs you to explore every corner of it There are lots of little quests and collectibles in good Zelda fashion to prolong the game's length including the grueling quest of the infamous Cave of Ordeals.

The Wii controls really make the game more playable. Simply swing the Wii Remote to slash your sword, point at foes to use your arrows or quickly select your desired item. It's very intuitive and makes it stand out just that little bit from the GameCube version.

The Bad
To put it simply; this game does little to innovate. It's a very traditional Zelda game. Particularly Ocarina of Time fans will feel a little too familiar with this game. The first few dungeons are a big déja-vu. Most Zelda games from the past decade such as Majora's Mask, The Wind Waker or Phantom Hourglass had things that set them apart from other entries in the series. Twilight Princess fails miserably in this area.

Particularly familiar is the Lakebed Temple. It's very similar to the Water Temple in Ocarina of Time (including being at the bottom of Lake Hylia) or Great Bay Temple in Majora's Mask. And it doesn't stop there, the Forest Temple, Goron Mines, Kakariko Village, Lake Hylia, it's mostly been there, done that. It's not until about halfway through the game that the dungeons and environments start getting a bit more original and actually feel inspired.

There are no true innovations in the very formula of the series either. The wolf mechanic is great but its still just a variation on older concepts, particularly the transformations from Majora's Mask.

This gets worse if you consider the game's progression is very linear for a Zelda game and you miss the open-ended feel that made the series such a hit in the early titles, especially since the world is so big and engaging. It's the age-old overworld-dungeon formula. It could have been much more fun if you could do the dungeons in a different order each time you play the game.

Sound effects are classic and you can hear them through the Wii Remote speaker. For example, if you use your bow you hear the string being pulled back through the controller. It's is of very low sound quality, though, and it unfortunately never becomes more than just a gimmick, they could have gone the extra mile and make some kind of cool Wii-exclusive feature out of it.

The story is very traditional and that gets worse as you progress further into the game. Many old ideas are carried over to this game, few new ones are introduced.

The few original concepts such as the Spinner are used only rarely.

The Bottom Line
Pros: Large, epic and engaging. Visually impressive with lots of style and atmosphere. Great cast of characters. Wii controls simply feel better than buttons. The biggest, most complete Zelda game in existence today.

Cons: Unoriginal and mostly a rehash of concepts from Ocarina of Time both in environments as well as storyline. Controller sound is bad and gimmicky. The Spinner should be used more. Bring it back in new games, Nintendo!

If you are looking for a long and engaging Zelda quest with an impressive presentation, look no further than Twilight Princess. If you are looking for an original and defining Zelda game, this is not your game, however.

By Rensch on June 21, 2010

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (Nintendo 64)

An innovative and wholly clever yet cumbersome Zelda game.

The Good
In 1998 Nintendo released upon the world a Nintendo 64 game so epic, so stunningly beautiful and so carefully crafted it wowed gamers across the globe and gained tremendous praise from gamers and critics alike.

This game was The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time. For its time it was revolutionary. With its large, stunning and open ended 3D world, its loveable characters and the innovative lock-on system Shigeru Miyamoto and his team proved they could translate their awesome Zelda series into 3D without sacrificing anything that made previous titles in the series such a delight to play.

To live up to the expectations made by that game Nintendo had to come up with something very interesting for a new sequel. The result was a game that both succeeded in doing so tremendously well while it also had some frustrating and annoying elements. It's kind of a divisive game among Zelda fans and they hold an ongoing debate whether it or Ocarina of Time is the better game. I am off course talking about one of the most unique and quirky Zelda games: The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask.

Released in 2000 it was a game that hit the Nintendo 64 late on in its life cycle. It came out around the same time when Sony released its wildly successful and much wanted PlayStation 2. Some people may have missed it because of this. A shame, really, as it is an incredibly clever and well thought out game, though not without flaws.

It starts only a few months after Ocarina of Time. Protagonist Link is looking for his old fairy buddy Navi when he stumbles upon the mysterious Skull Kid who lures him into a trap and uses the powers of a strange mask, the titular Majora's Mask, to transform Link into a Deku Scrub, a plant-like creature that first appeared in Ocarina of Time. Not only does Link need to find a way to become human again, he also needs to find his way back home as he has been sucked into the mysterious new land of Termina, robbed of his Ocarina of Time.

While walking around as a tiny Deku Scrub in Termina's main town, Clock Town, Link meets the Happy Mask Salesman, a character from the previous game, who urges him to get back Majora's Mask from Skull Kid to prevent its evil powers to spread across the world. He soon discovers there is some serious trouble going on in Termina. The moon, as in: an evil-looking moon with red eyes, is about to crash into Termina within three days, wiping it of the map and all its living creatures with it.

This is all because of the dark powers of the Mask, in which the ancient demon Majora resides. Link soon finds his Ocarina in the hands of the Skull Kid. After playing his healing song to become human again, Link will have to use the Ocarina's time travel capabilities to return to the first day he arrived in Termina to save himself from being crushed by the moon. This is totally different from the usual save-the-princess story seen so many times before and it allows for an unusually dark Zelda game with the constant sense of impending doom looming over everything Link does. Majora is by far the most story-driven Zelda game.

Time travel, that's basically what this game is all about. You play the Song of Time and you go back to day one. This way you can save yourself over and over. Don't have enough time left to beat that dungeon? Just go back in time to restore your time and use warp points to get back to where you ended quickly. You can also play the Song of Time differently to greatly slow down the flow of time or to travel to the future. The downside of this is that your actions never happened if you go back so most of the game will be reset, although you usually can get an item to solve problems in an easier way the next time around.

At first you will be totally confused and not really sure what to do. But after a bit of exploration your main objectives become clear. To get the mask back you will need to awaken four giants in each of the winds four directions.

Across the plains of Termina Field are four regions, each inhabited by a different race. There is a swamp where Deku Scrubs live, a high mountain where the Gorons, the rock people, live, a bay with the Fish-like Zora tribe and finally a dusty canyon where all kinds of undead creatures such as ghosts and zombies reside. At the end of each of these four regions, there is a dungeon. Beat the four dungeons to awaken all four giants.

While four dungeons may seem like nothing compared to Ocarina's nine different dungeons, Majora compensates this by relying much more on side-quests. In this game you have to carefully observe the living patterns of the people living in Termina. The postman's round, the artists rehearsing in Clock Town's back alleys, it all seems completely unimportant until you delve deeper into the game and you find how unique this idea truly is. For example, there is a Goron staying at an inn also called Link. You can travel back in time to use information from the future to your advantage and use your own name to get the key from the reservation counter so you get into the room he was supposed to stay in. Many characters have equivalents in Ocarina and it is especially fun to see the lovable characters from that game as sometimes completely different people. Take Navi the fairy for example. She was rather annoying in Ocarina of Time with her high pitched yelps like "Hey!" and "Look!". She's now replaced by Tatl who's an improvement for sure. There are a few new characters as well, including the very first appearance of Tingle the wannabe-fairy. I like how Termina is both completely different from Hyrule yet eerily similar at the same time.

The NPC quest system also makes the player much more aware of his or her moral dilemmas, and touches upon an emotional level. You can never really save anyone because you will choose to complete different sidequests each time you go back in time. This allows for a rather dark and moody game in the series that surprised gamers back in 2000. Thankfully Link gets a notebook that keeps track of these kind of tasks early on in the game so you can see if you already saved someone in a different timeline.

Many of these side-quests will earn you special masks, while others are obtained by playing through the main quest. These masks play a much more important role than in the previous game. While some just enhance the game in simple ways such as the ability to run faster, others transform link into a Deku Scrub, a Goron or a Zora, each with their own abilities much like in Super Mario games. Many masks, particularly the transformation masks, are vital in progressing through the game and in solving puzzles. Need to be able to dive? Put on the Zora Mask. Need to glide across short chasms? Just whip out the Deku Mask. There are more than 20 in all and while not all are compulsory to beat the game, its fun to collect them all. These masks are very cool and truly enhance the Zelda formula.

The dungeons though, are still where this game truly shines. Particularly the Stone Tower Temple is one of the series' absolute gems. I will not spoil why but play the game and you'll get it. It's just a shame there is so few of them.

The heavy reliance on side-quests also makes this a much more replayable Zelda game. Finding all the weapon upgrades, masks and hearts is going to take a while.

While gameplay is solid, it also looks really good. Graphics are Expansion Pak enhanced and make an already stunning engine even better. There are better looking textures than in Ocarina of Time. Link just looks much better with more polygons and more detailed textures. One of the most visually impressive N64 titles. Even today it holds up pretty well.

The music is a solid mix from tunes from earlier Zelda games as well as new ones. Still as strong as ever! Nice classic effects, such as the puzzle solve sound and the item fanfare are here.

Other than that, everything that made Ocarina of Time such a great game is in here such as ocarina songs, cool weapons, horse riding, mini-games and so on.

The Bad
While this game is probably the most clever Zelda game ever, the bold choices Nintendo made also have some major downsides.

Let's start of with traveling back in time. You lose all consumables such as potions, money, arrows and bombs when traveling back to day one. This is very, very annoying. You can save money on your bank account (that apparently transcends spatiotemporal boundaries) but doing so all the time is cumbersome and should not be a necessity.

But the most annoying thing is the fact that all of the game is practically reset after going back to the first day. Sure, it's a terrific idea at one point making you think about your actions, but it can also frustrate you to death. Usually, newly found items, masks or ocarina tunes let you skip entire parts of the game. However, there are some tasks that need to be done over and over in order to figure everything out and you don't always know whether or not there is an item you should be getting first, let alone how, where or when. You may sometimes make a little mistake and you have to do a lot of work all over again.

The most important example is in the quest with Anju and Kafei, a sort of love tragedy revolving around a young couple about to marry at the festival at the end of the third day. It's a classic Zelda trading sequence, which is cool, but make one little mistake here and you can do it all over again... and again... and again. This frustrated me to no end.

Another thing that I found annoying was the saving system. The game saves your progress if you go back in time, putting you back in Clock Town. You can also save at other locations using owl statues, the warp points of the game. However, the game will take you to the title screen and you can only boot it up once. If you turn of the game after opening an owl statue save file, you get sent back to the last time you saved by going back to day one. I am not sure what they were thinking when they came up with this system.

And then there is the time limit. Sure, it keeps that sense of urgency alive and you can always go back in time. There isn't much trouble with it. That is, until you enter the dungeons. Sure, you can slow down time but even then it is frustrating if you want to figure out how to beat that nasty puzzle while time is steadily running out. And you'll want to collect all the fairies hidden in each temple in one run-through as well so you can get all the important weapon upgrades because if you don't and go back in time, yep!, you lose all of them and the whole dungeon will be reset so getting them all again isn't easy either, even with new dungeon items.

As said, heavy reliance on side-quests goes at the cost of having fewer dungeons. Some may not like the many side-quests.

The Nintendo 64 version requires the purchase of the Expansion Pak. I suggest you just spend your ten bucks on the Virtual Console version instead.

The Bottom Line
That being said Majora's Mask is all in all a fantastic game. It's unique, it's clever, it's pretty and it has a terrific way of telling a story but most importantly; it's fun!

The designers made some bold decisions in this game that work out very well while also come at a high cost, mostly when it comes to the accessibility of the game. This is the reason I still think that in the end, Ocarina of Time is simply the better game. If you never played both games I suggest you play that game first, it will make Majora's Mask more fun to play, anyway.

When all is said and done, Majora's Mask may be a game that's not for everyone, but fans of the series owe it to themselves to at least give this game a try. If you can look past its flaws you will discover what may very well be the most original and clever Zelda game made to this day.

By Rensch on May 21, 2010

The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks (Nintendo DS)

On par with Phantom Hourglass

The Good
Let's start by saying this game has a lot of similarities compared to the first Zelda outing on the DS; 2007's Phantom Hourglass. The same game engine and touch controls are here, the cell-shaded look from Phantom Hourglass and The Wind Waker is back as are many gameplay elements from that game and other Zelda games as well.

That's not to say Spirit Tracks doesn't do its best to feel new and fresh, on the contrary. It is another strong action-adventure outing in Nintendo's acclaimed series that, like the best games in the series, has some strong new elements that separate it from other Zelda titles. When Phantom Hourglass came out, I thought it was one of the best Zelda games in years because of its clever use of the Touch Screen. There were many puzzles based around touch screen mechanics in many highly original ways. I praised the game for incorporating the capabilities of Nintendo's handheld so well and in so many innovative ways into a 20-year old formula. At the time, I had no hesitation at all to say that this game was the all-round best game on the system.

So how does a game that plays, looks and feels so similar to a two-year old DS classic feel fresh and new. In Phantom Hourglass you had to sail a boat across a vast sea. That sea has been replaced with a more familiar Hyrule kingdom. Instead of sailing across the waves, there is now a vast network of train tracks, the titular Spirit Tracks, that protagonist Link has to traverse in his train. Controlling the train works very similar to the sailing in Phantom Hourglass. You plot your route on the map. However, you're also much more restricted because you are limited to the tracks. It may sound a bit boring but there are enough baddies and objects to keep it fun and engaging. You can blow your horn, blast your cannon at monsters and explore the far corners of Hyrule. The further you get in the main quest and the more side-quests you complete, the more tracks appear. Those tracks are an important part in this game's story.

It goes something like this: There once was a war between the ancient spirits of light and the demons and their king, Malladus. The spirits defeated and sealed Malladus away within the Tower of Spirits. The Spirit Tracks, which were used as shackles to keep the seal to his prison intact, are failing and disappearing. It's about a century after the events of Phantom Hourglass and nowadays, these tracks are used as train tracks. Link, our hero, having the important task of transporting princess Zelda as an engineer, gets stuck when the tracks simply disappear while he's using them. Malladus' followers steal Zelda's body to use it as a new body for Malladus' spirit, leaving Zelda's spirit behind. Together with Zelda's spirit, Link sets out to get Zelda's body back and stop Malladus and his nefarious helpers; Cole and Byrne who are bent on reviving Malladus' spirit. They are aided by the Lokomos, an ancient race of sages that link must seek out much like in Ocarina of Time. The Lokomos of the Tower of Spirits, Anjean, is your main mentor and she will tell you what to do and what regions of Hyrule you should visit next. With her help Link and Zelda travel all over Hyrule by train as a team, and a good one at that.

So instead of being the damsel in distress, Zelda is now your main sidekick, much like the fairy Ceila was in the previous game, for those who played it. This comes in handy in the Tower of Spirits. If you played Phantom Hourglass, you may remember the Temple of the Ocean King. This large dungeon had you finding your way through various floors while avoiding phantom knights bent on killing you. You had to visit this place multiple times throughout the game, beating more and more floors and finding new maps to travel to new areas.

The aforementioned Tower of Spirits is pretty much the same thing. However, this one is a vast improvement over its counterpart in the previous game. In that game, there was a time limit and you could not beat the phantoms until very late on in the game. In this game however, there is no time limit, and if you pick up three Tears of Light (back from Twilight Princess) you get the power to stab the phantoms in the back to stun them.

Zelda, being a ghost, can take them over and act as Link's help. With some good thinking and strong teamwork between the two, you can get through some seriously impressive puzzles, some of the best in the series, in fact. The overall dungeon is a bit more puzzle-based than the Temple of the Ocean King to make it fit more with a slower, more relaxed and all-round less frustrating pace.

Another major improvement is the fact that you don't have to do all or many of the previous floors again. There was only one half-way point in Phantom Hourglass and while you could speed up things with new items you didn't have at first, it was still very annoying. In Spirit Tracks however, you can skip all earlier sets of floors upon each subsequent visit. You can still revisit them, however, if you're a purist who wants to collect all treasures unavailable in an earlier run-through because you needed a specific item not yet obtained. In other words; revisiting floors is solely for replay value.

The land of Hyrule is divided into four regions with one or two temples in each of them. There is a forest area in which our heroes live, a snowy tundra, a mountainous area with volcanic activity and an ocean area with sea and sand. The temples reflect the nature of their surroundings. There is an underwater temple, a forest temple, a desert temple and more. Sound familiar? Yes, but the temples have enough new concepts to make them feel original. One of Phantom Hourglass' strongest points was the idea of scribbling hints or treasure locations on your map. That feature is back again, applied in ways both new and familiar, but always fun. There are some new items as well. I won't spoil too much, but a cool one to mention is a whip that turns Link into Hyrule's Indiana Jones. How cool is that? There are many cool puzzles, original enemies and just plain brilliant bosses to be tackled with these items inside the dungeons. There's a lot of diversity in them. At one point you're blowing spiky balls into a giant bug's face by blowing in the microphone, later on you're swinging with your whip from branch to branch or lighting a torch with your flaming boomerang to make a treasure chest appear. All in all, it is a balanced and solid mix of familiarities from earlier titles and new, original concepts.

Graphically it is very similar to Phantom Hourglass. The same cartoony style mostly associated with Wind Waker is still retained nicely on the small screen. The cell-shaded characters look fantastic and are not as low on polygons as in many other DS games. The environments are done in pretty 3D combined with the top-down perspective of classic Zelda games on systems such as the NES and SNES. While not as pretty as the towns and dungeons, the overworld is much more colorful and diverse than the slightly generic sea environments in Phantom Hourglass.

The controls are still as smooth as in the first game and only using the touch screen works fantastic. The issues with performing the roll move have been corrected in this game. It is amazing to see in how many ways the touch screen can be used. Just like in Phantom Hourglass, you will be amazed how much you can do with just a touch screen and a stylus if the proper time and attention is given by the proper development teams.

Sound and music are as strong as ever. Much like in Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask and The Wind Waker, music is also a gameplay element in itself. While it does not play as big a role as in those games, it is still a very cool element in the game. This is because this game's musical instrument, the Spirit Flute, is played by blowing in the microphone. Not only is this fun, it also makes the gap between player and game smaller and makes you feel just that little bit more engaged with the game.

There is also multiplayer mode like in Phantom Hourglass. The winner is the one who collects the most gems. Trying to trap your friends is the trick and fun-factor here. When you're running across a seemingly ordinary floor, someone may trip a switch somewhere else in the room, opening the floor and dropping you in a dark pit. Simple but fun, and with some slight differences from Phantom Hourglass to keep it fresh.

The Bad
The biggest annoyance from Wind Waker, its pacing issues, were corrected in Phantom Hourglass. The sailing took less time and was less boring. However, its Spirit Tracks equivalent, the train travel, while not boring, does have the pacing issues Wind Waker had. The train idea is fun and clever, but it proves for a sluggish way of transport nonetheless. It's just a pain to get about, anyway. There are some warp points but they are not really helpful at all because they connect to only one specific point of the map. They should have made it so that you could select any other warp point on the map. I have no clue what they were thinking but it almost makes getting about the overworld more complicated instead of easier. The train itself moves slowly and all the travelling keeps the overall pace slow as if the developers wanted to conceal the short length of the game.

Short length? Yes, unfortunately, this game is even shorter than Phantom Hourglass, which I criticized for being too short and easy. Unfortunately, in Spirit Tracks nothing has been done to correct those issues. There is just five temples and the Tower of Spirits as a central hub dungeon. Too few, Nintendo! Some of the short length can be compensated by completing sidequests and collecting optional stuff but it still should have been a slightly longer experience. There are some clever puzzles in there that really tease your brain, but overall, it is not an overly hard game, either.

The overworld has some rough textures. It looks much less impressive than towns, dungeons etc.

The train tracks, while original and clever, take away a lot of the open-ended feel that Zelda is known for. While the world is vast and the network of Spirit Tracks grows bigger and bigger over the course of the game, Zelda fans may find that the game keeps you restricted too much. You just wish you could go out and explore those vast fields like you could in games like Ocarina of Time, Majora's Mask and Twilight Princess. It's not that it's bad, it may just be slightly disappointing for long-time fans.

While full touch screen controls worked perfectly, some people would have preferred an option to use buttons in Phantom Hourglass. Such an option is still not present. I wasn't annoyed by it one bit, but I know some people will be.

The multiplayer is not available for on-line play, only local wireless. This gets worse if you consider that Phantom Hourglass had on-line multiplayer. Why Nintendo? There is no excuse not to put an on-line mode in.

The Bottom Line
Overall, this is another Zelda masterpiece. It's not better than Phantom Hourglass but not worse either. For every shortcoming of its predecessor it corrects, it has something else that is inferior. All in all, both are about equal. If you have played Phantom Hourglass before, it may not be as fresh and innovative as that game as there are obvious similarities. However, when all is said and done, it's a game that packs enough charm and originality to warrant a purchase for all newcomers and long-time fans alike.

By Rensch on December 31, 2009

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64)

A masterpiece of epic proportions and the best 2D to 3D transition ever! Amazing and timeless!

The Good
Well, A LOT? Ocarina of Time was in many ways a revolutionary game. It's not only a great game because it translated the extremely polished gameplay of earlier games into 3D, but also because of the way it does so.

The story is as follows: In the Kokiri forest, a young boy called Link, has the same dream every night; an evil looking man on horseback approaches, then Link wakes up, shivering with fear. All his Kokiri friends have a fairy, except Link, but then that all changes as Link is summoned by the Forest's guardian spirit, the Great Deku Tree, to break a curse cast upon him by an evil man who seems to fit the description of the man on horseback from Link's nightmare. Link and his new fairy friend Navi are ready to go on en epic quest that will take them through the vast land of Hyrule.

While the story is not that much different from earlier games, the large, stunning and vibrant 3D world, memorable characters and lovable music made it much more epic than before. This is the main reason why many people find it the greatest game they ever played, I personally am one of them.

The way OoT translated 2D gameplay into 3D might seem awfully logical by today's standards but back in the late 90's it was revolutionary. The most notable example of this is the way you can target your foes, keeping them in your sight while still moving around. Not only is this very simple, hitting Z once is enough to lock on to enemies, but also very effective. By repeatedly hitting the Z-trigger, you can switch between different enemies if you are fighting multiple ones at a time. In later years many games, such as Metroid Prime, copied and refined this mechanic but OoT was the pioneer of this system that still works fine today.

Targeting is done with Navi the fairy's help, who points at foes. But it is not just foes that Navi can point at, there are also many other things such as people and objects that you can target at. This usually gives you some valuable hints about solving puzzles. If you dawdle around for a while, not knowing what to do, Navi calls you. A simple press of the upper C-button will then make you talk to her. she'll give you a hint as to were you should go next.

The world still has an overworld with lots of side-quests that you can freely take part in, if you feel like taking a break from the main quest. Not only are they fun, they also aid you because you can win items that enhance your main quest such as weapon upgrades and hearts. It is, however not just the stuff you can find in this world, but also the sheer scope of it. In 3D it is even more inviting to explore the fascinating regions of Hyrule.

There are lots of secret areas to find and explore and the regions are all different with their own themes, races, cultures and monsters. There is the quiet village in the forest of the Kokiri, the forest children and the treacherous waters of the fish-like Zora people. Then there is the volcanic slopes of Death Mountain, inhabited by the rocky Gorons and the bustling towns of the Hylians as well as the vast Lake Hylia and the desert of the Gerudo tribe. Another important place is the, for that time, HUGE Hyrule Field, a large plain that just begs to be explored. You can get a horse and then quickly ride it around this vast place, which feels awesome. This 3D rendition of Hyrule was quite simply the most immersive video game world ever conceived back in 1998, as well as one of the largest and it is still is a lot of fun to explore it nowadays. While not as vast as later games in the series, it is still one of the most varied and lovable gaming worlds ever.

Another important factor why this game is so epic are the characters. This is one of those few games that actually make you feel emotionally attached to the characters. They make the otherwise cliche hero-fights-evil-and-saves-princess story much more interesting. While Link and Princess Zelda are mostly the same, the evil Ganondorf now has much more personality and is actually seen in a much more human form. There's a much bigger emphasis on the different peoples of Hyrule ranging from Gorons to Zora's, Gerudo to Kokiri and from Hylains to Sheikah. One of the most important characters is the mysterious Shiek. The revelation of his true identity is a memorable moment.

A clever and much loved mechanic is the Ocarina of Time that this game got its name from. You can play special tunes that allow you to manipulate objects or warp to a certain location. You can even manipulate time by travelling to the next day or night in mere seconds.

Speaking of time travel, that is another important and original element in this game. After a while you will be able to travel between your childhood as a 12-year old boy, and your adulthood as a 19-year old warrior. While perfected in Majora's Mask (OoT's direct sequel), it allows for some stuff that is still pretty interesting today. It is a system that is comparable to the Light/Dark World in A Link to the Past on the Super NES. An example of just how clever it really is, are the Magic Beans. If you plant these as a child, they will have grown into plants that can be used to reach ledges you previously were unable to reach.

There are numerous examples of the contrasts between the two ages, some characters have grown up or even died when you are an adult and the evil Ganondorf has taken over Hyrule when you are an adult. While Hyrule Castle Town has a busy marketplace during Link's youth, it is a place haunted by the undead under Ganondorf's rule when Link grows up. Thankfully you can freely move between the two. If you cannot gain entrance to a dungeon at one time, you can travel to the other to get inside or find an item that will allow you to do so the past or future. This allows for some seriously clever and interesting puzzles. There is even a dungeon you need to visit in both stages of your life in order to complete it.

While many of the stuff you will find is very similar to the 2D games, the transition to 3D is done so well, you will not care since it feels fresh and new. It's done in a clever and accessible way. You will still be crawling through dungeons solving puzzles, looking for items that will give you access to new areas, battle monters and explore a large overworld full of secrets bringing it all together. Everything still feels great in 3D. In fact, it makes the classic Zelda elements that much more fun. Battling enemies is now much more epic and the dungeons are much more thrilling to explore.

Speaking of those, OoT has some of the most memorable and creative dungeons in any Zelda title. From the inside of the Great Deku Tree to the volcanic caves of Death Mountain and from the belly of a giant whale to the puzzling halls of the Water Temple at the bottom of lake Hylia, this game has some of the best ever.They are full of cool enemies and truly epic boss battles. Who could forget the witch sisters Twinrova in the Spirit temple or dragon volvagia in the Fire temple and eventually the awesome battle against the evil Ganondorf himself.

The sound is some of the best the Nintendo 64¬īs MIDI could produce. There are some memorable tunes including the epic Hyrule field theme, the creepy Shadow Temple theme and the cheerful Saria¬īs Song. As mentioned before, playing music is very important on this game. This way, not just the music is of a high quality, but also the way it is incorporated into the actual gameplay. OoT most definitely has one of the greatest soundtracks ever.

To make it even better, it all looks amazing. While the textures may look rough by todays standards, it still looks nice. OoT is also still as atmospheric as it was more than a decade ago. This definitely shows the lasting power of this epic game.

There is a great replay value, too. Even after completing it you'll want to come back to find all the secret stuff such as heart pieces, secret caves, fairy springs and weapon upgrades. But it is not just the sufficient replayability that will make you want to go through this adventure again and again, it is above all its epic and magical feel, its beauty, its fantastic gameplay, the wonderful soundtrack and just about everything else that make up this games' epic grandeur. This game shines because it has so many memorable moments making it timeless. That's why you will want to come back to it now and then.

The Bad
As I said some textures just look rough even if you remember this is an old game.

Some music sounds really midi-ish, and thus dated, showing that Nintendo's preference for cartridges had its disadvantages. Thankfully most of it still sounds great so only at certain moments this will be annoying.

Some far-off flying enemies such as birds and bats are hard to lock on to until they get up close to attack you, when they are almost impossible to avoid.

The Bottom Line
I could go on for hours how amazing this game is, but let's just say that the first game on the NES laid the framework of the series. A Link to the Past refined it on the SNES and Ocarina of Time proved that it could sustain all the fun elements of the series while translating it into a vast, immersive and stunning 3D world. Everything just seems to blend together as flawlessly and somehow feels like it should.

While some of the later later Zelda games seemed to have little innovation, Ocarina of Time was all that fans hoped it would be, and more! OoT brought many innovations making it the blueprint of modern 3D action adventures, just as the first game on NES was for 2D action adventures. Because of the 3D transition, there might not be a Zelda game that will ever top it when it comes to innovation, an immersive world and the epic feel. Later games such as Twilight Princess had the same feel as OoT but not really anything innovative on top of that. That is why none of those were a milestone in gaming like this one is.

Still available for ten euros/dollars on the Wii Virtual Console, there is no reason not to play it. This is one game that survives the test of time remarkably well and is just as awesome as it was more then a decade ago. It is quite simply the best (Zelda) game ever. This game is truly timeless!

The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time is not just a game, it's an epic experience!

By Rensch on April 23, 2009

Super Mario Galaxy (Wii)

The most sophisticated platformer yet and the best Wii game there is!

The Good
Super Mario Galaxy is, like earlier games before it, made with compassion and attention to every little detail. This game just breathes all the love that went into making it, in almost every way!

This game starts pretty familiar, Mario visits one of Princess Peach's parties when Bowser appears. Bowser kidnaps the princess and takes her into space, blowing Mario to the stars while doing so.

And that's on of the things that set SMG apart from earlier games: It's in space! This allowed the designers to try out new concepts that make for very innovative and interesting new levels

Each of these levels is a galaxy that consists of several celestial bodies. It's that mechanic that makes the levels so great, because it allows for an awesome concept that few games have experimented with: multiple gravity fields !

Each celestial body has it's own gravity field. This means that Mario can sometimes literally jump from one planet to another. It happens often that when you reach the edge of a platform you can simply run onto the other side, effectively making Mario run underneath a platform upside-down. Another interesting object is the pull star, simply point the Wii remote's cursor on it and press and hold the A button to activate the gravity field, pulling Mario towards it. At some points in the game, entire courses are made around this concept. Finally, an important thing to note are the launch stars. These launch Mario towards certain Planets or even whole Galaxies, and are the main means of traversing the Galaxies when you can't simply jump towards the next planet of platform.

They are operated by performing the new Spin Attack. This move is performed by simply shaking the controller. You can also use it to attack, break objects and many more things. Simple, but oh so effective!

The other thing that makes this game a masterpiece, is it's diversity. This game succeeds not only flawlessly at feeling both fresh and familiar but also does it in a balanced way. All the familiar themes are there: from Super Mario Bros.' green fields and Super Mario Bros. 3's deserts and airships to the haunted mansions of Super Mario World and the marine levels seen in Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Sunshine. There are also a lot of new themes such as beehive galaxies, toy galaxies and space station galaxies.

Not just the themes are diverse, the gameplay is too. While some concepts are totally unique, like the ones I mentioned earlier, familiar platform jumping is still a big part of the game, too. These area's usually have black holes pulling you towards them, preventing you form walking on the opposite side of the planet. This results in more familiar gameplay. There is still a good deal of levels that rely on more traditional gameplay such as collecting coins and defeating old-fashioned enmies such as Koopas, Bullet Bills, chain Chomps and Goombas. Even old NES-style sidescrolling sequences are in SMG. Some new power-ups have been added such as a Ghost suit (go through walls) and a Bee Suit (flying power) while being complemented with familiar powers such as Fire Mario.

The main object started in Super Mario 64 about a decade before this game is still intact. Each level has some stars to collect. All levels are collected by a hub world, a space observatory in this game. The more you have, the more levels you can access. Get 60 to open up Bowser's final lair, and defeat him, which is not too difficult, then aim for collecting all 120 stars which is the real challenge.

All the main Mario characters return, such as Peach, Luigi and Toad. There is also a new character called Rosalina, which is a beautifully designed character. She's very much like a fairy-tale being. She looks after the Lumas, star-shaped creatures who grow up into becoming new worlds.

That actually happens now and then when you feed them Star Bits. These colorful meteorite rocks are all over and can be collected by simply pointing at them with the Wii Remote. If you feed them to the Lumas they will transform into launch stars or planets so you can reach new areas. You can even shoot them to attack enemies. This makes the Wii remote actually surprisingly useful in a platform game and adds another layer of innovation.

I could go on for hours about how awesome and diverse the gameplay is, but you'd better just find it out for yourself. This game has something for everyone, both younger and more experienced gamers.

Then there's the graphics. This game really is the first game that uses the Wii's full graphical potential. It's easily the best looking Wii game with advanced lighting effects that really fit the celestial theme nicely. Each world is presented in a different colorful style that's always nice to look at. There is no sign of dropping frame-rates. 480p and 16:9 wide-screen is supported.

The music is just as great. From classic Mario tunes to a majestic waltz and from rock to dramatic classical tunes. And to make it better, it's all fully orchestrated! Everything is complemented with Mario's familiar screams and yelps and some positively old-school sound effects.

With 120 stars to collect, accomplishments that can be shared with WiiConnect24 and lots of things to see and do, you won't have to worry about the replay value here. And this game is so awesome you'll want to go trough it again, anyway.

The Bad
Shaking the Wii controller around for the spin attack all the time may get slightly irritating after a while.

The Bottom Line
A game with a diversity unmatched by any platform game and as good of a balance of old and new concepts as you can possibly desire. There's something in there for young and old. One may argue that Super Mario Galaxy is a bit less revolutionary than its predecessors, but there is no denying that it's definitely the most sophisticated Mario game, as well as the most sophisticated platform game in general!

By Rensch on January 10, 2009

The Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap (Game Boy Advance)

A small handheld, a small hero, a small gem!

The Good
In this new Zelda adventure Link sets out on an adventure to defeat the evil wizard Vaati, who turned princess Zelda into stone and stop him from using her magic to turn himself into an all-powerful deity. Meanwhile the portal to the Minish World has opened. The Minish, or Picori are a race of thumb-sized beings that will help Link in his quest. Early on he meets Ezlo, a creature who has been turned into a strange hat. With Ezlo's help, Link can use special portals to shrink Link down to mini-size to enter Minish homes. The Minish live everywhere, from small holes in rocks to old shoes and even inside books.

This brings an interesting aspect to the gameplay, which is still strong. Mere puddles become deadly swamps when Link is small and tall grass or doorsteps block his way. On the other hand, this allows you to travel through small holes to reach otherwise inaccessible areas. This system is equivalent to the light and dark world from A Link to the Past or Ocarina of Time's present/future system. It is incorporated in many unique ways and gives you some very interesting puzzles to think about.

Another new aspect in this game are the Kinstone fusions. All around Hyrule, you can find Kinstone Pieces. These are stone fragments. If you find a person with a fitting piece, you will get something good. Sometimes a secret passage opens or a treasure chest appears. While not an addition that directly influences the gameplay or story, it is a nice addition that adds to the length and it is a lot of fun to find all matching pieces.

The overall gameplay is just classic Zelda, which is still an amazing formula. Fun bosses, interesting puzzles, addictive dungeon exploration and tons of little secrets to be found. Items play an important role as usual. New ones include the Gust Jar, which creates wind or can be used as a vacuum cleaner and the Mole Mitts, which allows you to dig tunnels. These items are well-thought off and add enough to the overall gameplay.

The graphical area is one where this game truly shines. Easily the best-looking 2D Zelda as well as one of the ovrall best-looking GBA titles. Everything is carefully crafted and detailed. The world is colorful and the animations are fluid. From the atmospheric Minish Woods to the sunny plains of Hyrule Field, this game is a delight to look at. It is made in the same great cartoon style as the Wind Waker and Four Swords (which was bundled with the GBA version of A Link to the Past). No complaints here!

There is enough to do after completing the game. Kinstone fusions, collecting all hearts, learning all techniques and find every weapon upgrade.

Sound is recognisable to the fans. Link's shouts and the puzzle-solving sound are all here. Music is crisp and clear and has both old and new tunes. All these tunes are ones you will be humming along soon. Yet another Zelda game to score well in this area.

The Bad
This game is far too easy! While, as mentioned, there is enough replay it is still a shame that the bosses are usually defeated easily once you find out how to do that.

This gets even worse when you discover this game is also really short, especially compared to A Link to the Past, which is also available for GBA. This title has only five main dungeons. No other Zelda title has had this few to this day. A real shame.

Lack of innovation to the classic Zelda formula.

The Bottom Line
An all-new Zelda title that is sure a delight to play, but don't expect the challenge that A Link to the Past/Four Swords provides or any drastic changes that directly affect gameplay.

By Rensch on February 6, 2008

The Legend of Zelda: Phantom Hourglass (Nintendo DS)

Incorporates brilliant touch innovation in classic Zelda gameplay. Get it!

The Good
This game has awesome graphics. The same style as the Wind Waker (to which this game is a sequel) is used. While there are some polygons taken out and some things are simplified for the small screen, the charming cell-shaded style holds up surprisingly well, making it one of the better looking DS titles.

The story of Phantom Hourglass picks up right were Wind Waker left off. Link and his friend Tetra (who is actually princess Zelda) come across a ghost ship. Tetra is taken away by the Ghost Ship so Link goes after her but falls into the sea. When he awakes, he finds himself on an island. Here he meets Ceila the fairy, who is like Navi in Ocarina of Time. This is the start of one of the most unique titles in the Zelda franchise.

When you start the game you will discover that the D-pad isn't used to control Link. You have use the DS' touch screen instead. Actually, everything is done on the touch screen. While this may sound a bit controversial at first, when you try it for a few minutes, you will find controlling Link is a breeze. Walking is done by sliding the stylus across the screen. Where you touch, Ceila will go, and Link will follow her. When touching close to link he will walk slower. Attacking, talking and manipulating enemies, characters and things is done by simply touching them. Quickly draw a line in the direction of an enemy to stab it. Run and draw a small circle at the edge of the screen to roll. When you draw a circle around Link, he does his famous spin attack. You will understand this within five minutes and it makes the game much more accessible for both Zelda fans and newcomers. But the touch implementation is used for other things in many brilliant ways. The most notable ones are the way you draw your route on the Sea Chart. In Wind Waker Sailing at sea was boring, with little to do on trips that could take minutes. This was of the biggest flaws in that game. In this game, however, you just draw your route and off you go. There are plenty of hazards to meet and other ships to board, as well as some uncharted islands to find. While the map is smaller than in Wind Waker, the islands are also closer to each other so you usually get where you want to go in less than two minutes. Another important use of the lower screen is the notation of clues. When you find a clue, you can just switch the dungeon map to the bottom screen and write your clue down, making it easy to remember. Find a route you need to take when sailing through foggy weather? Need to remember the order of switches in that particular dungeon room? Just draw it or write it down on the map. This is used in many fun and exciting new ways that I will leave you to find out for yourself. Using items is also very easy with touch controls. Want to make your boomerang go a special route? Just select it and draw the route on the touch screen. Want to place a bomb? Just tap where you want to drop it and it drops down exactly where you want it. Most of these touch controls work very well and they all make perfect sense.

This game has some great characters. The aforementioned Ceila is a somewhat bold but helpful Fairy. Besides Ceila there is Oshus, who is, in typical Zelda tradition, the 'wise old man' in this game. Then there's Linebeck, a Jack Sparrow-like sailor more interested in precious treasures than saving the damsel in distress. Linebeck is cowardly and a bit rude but he will take you across the many different islands. These are the main characters but there are dozens more and everyone you meet has his or her own characteristics. Like in Wind Waker, the characters are extremely expressive, making them much more attractive to the player and a delight to look at, even on the small screen.

As always, the dungeons are a delight and to complete them, you need to find new items to solve puzzles and defeat certain enemies. Although similar to the ones seen in previous Zelda titles, the innovative controls make all-new puzzles possible. For example, there's a door. There is no way to open it and no keyhole to put a key in. But wait! There is that strange symbol you found in another room that you wrote down. When you write it on the door, it opens. This is an example of many moments that you will notice the control scheme does really add a lot of depth to the game. At the end of each dungeon there is a boss that you need to fight. All of these bosses are a lot of fun and make use of the touch screen controls in different and fun ways. Another important addition in the dungeon/overworld structure is the Temple of the Ocean King. this is a dungeon you will have to revisit multiple times during the game. There is a life sucking curse in this temple that slowly draws your hearts. After a while you get an item that protects you: The Phantom Hourglass. Once all the sand is in the lower part of the Hourglass, however, you are no longer protected. Luckily, you can find extra sand after beating bosses or finding it in secret places. In this temple there are various safe zones that stop the time and make you invisible for the Phantoms; unbeatable knight-like spirits that guard the temple from intruders. This makes for a fun and exciting stealth game. Once you get more items, you can get through earlier floors easier and you will be able to go deeper into the dungeon. At the end of the game you will be able to easily reach the lowest floor where so you can reach the last boss. This dungeon really is a fun addition to the gameplay as well as the storyline.

Music is epic and you will want to put your headphones on. Sound effects are classic Zelda effects, like the puzzles solving sound, but are crisp, clear and up to date. When you are in a dungeon or cave, you hear echoes, adding to the atmosphere.

Although short, Phantom Hourglass has plenty of stuff to do besides the main game, such as finding ship parts to customize Linebeck's steamship and finding secret treasures.

The Bad
Rolling doesn't always work out as fine as other actions.

This game is too short and easy compared to some other Zelda games such as A Link to the Past, Ocarina of Time and Twilight Princess. You will probably finish it in about fifteen hours. It feels somewhat like the creators felt that the new and unexplored control scheme had to be compromised by making the game easier. But the controls work out well enough for a more challenging game than this. There is a decent amount of replay value but it still is a shame. You just wish there was more to this great game.

The temple of the Ocean King has only one save point halfway through the dungeon, forcing you to do a lot of floors over and over. Although they are easier than before because of newly acquired items, it still is annoying if you want to save precious time for lower floors. One or two extra save points would have been nice.

The Bottom Line
A brilliant blend of classic Zelda gameplay and innovative touch screen-controls that will keep you hooked for hours. One of the best Nintendo DS titles so far!

By Rensch on November 15, 2007

Super Mario 64 DS (Nintendo DS)

The first and greatest of all 3D platform games, plus more! One you can't afford to miss if you own a DS!

The Good
Well, it's a Mario game so there's lots of things to like here. First of all please note that Super Mario 64 on the Nintendo 64 was one of the greatest and most notable games ever since it introduced us to the 3D platform genre. This game is the same but has much more to offer than the original, making it fun for veterans, too. You can now play as one of four characters: Yoshi, Mario, Luigi and even Wario, each with unique powers. This was one of the few flaws of the original. The story has been altered because of that. Now you start with Yoshi: Mario is invited to eat cake at princess Peach Toadstool's castle. Luigi and Wario join him. Yoshi, who was sleeping on the roof of the castle learns that they have been locked up by Bowser, who kidnapped Peach and stole the power stars from the castle. Now Yoshi must release the others and together they must retrieve the power stars and finish of with Bowser a few times along the way and finally save Peach. The graphics are better than the original since there's a lot more polygon's. Mario looks much, much better. Textures are a bit inferior to the N64 version, but overall this version is better on the graphics area. The gameplay is OK and you can steer with both the touch screen and the directional pad in different gameplay modes. Not all of them work well and none of them work as well as the joystick of the N64, but it's good gameplay nonetheless. The sound is great in the DS surround sound and you'll recognize some tunes from earlier games in the series, the same goes for the sound effects. The little shrieks of the characters are a bit worse but that's not much of a problem. This version is bigger because there are new areas, they are not very as spectacular as the original levels but it's a nice touch. There are 30 new stars to collect bringing the total up to 150. There are a lot of fun stylus mini-games that can be unlocked too, which are really worth the look. As mentioned before there are three more playable characters which are all needed to collect all stars. Al these new extra's make the longevity of this game a lot bigger. For the rest it's basically the same, which is a good thing because Super Mario 64 was such a brilliant game. The level design is great as always, just perfect. Another cool new feature is a map on the lower screen showing items.

The Bad
As mentioned before, some sounds don't sound very well and some textures are not so good on the small screen as on the TV screen. Gameplay is good, but not as good as on the N64 analog stick, either.

The Bottom Line
A great remake of a classic that is one of the few in a long line Nintendo remakes that manages to please both veterans and newbies. This is just the Mario game that is required in your collection for the DS, as with all Nintendo's systems. Buy it with a DS!

By Rensch on November 10, 2007

Rayman 3 (Game Boy Advance)

A fun platform game that will please newbies more than the fans.

The Good
This game has a pretty good storyline and fun characters. Gameplay is very good but it's not to different from earlier Rayman games. The levels require good reflexes and may be a little difficult for players new to the platform genre but if you played more platform games, especially Rayman games, this shouldn't be a very hard game. There is a decent replay value. If you collect all the lums (little yellow lights) in each of the four worlds at all levels a bonus level will be unlocked. Furthermore there are some multiplayer levels but nothing too special. Also included is a NGC link to download extra levels that make this game a bit longer. The thing that I liked most is definitely the graphics. This was (and still is) one of the most satisfying GBA games when it comes to graphics. Everything looks fresh and colorful and is displayed pixel perfect. The levels are drawn in a dreamy and comic book like style though the levels themselves are a bit boring because they look so empty sometimes, but that's not really a problem. The characters are also richly animated and Rayman has had a bit of a face-lift (don't worry, he still hasn't got limbs). When I first played this I had never before seen such a beautiful GBA game. Graphically this is simply brilliant.

The Bad
- It's not really refreshing from previous games and just uses the same characters and style which makes it lose a bit of the fresh feel. Gameplay hasn't changed at all, so this may be more fun for Rayman newbies rather than the fans. Fans are better of with the console version. - As I mentioned before, the levels are sometimes a bit empty. This is mostly because of the lack of scenery enemies and bonuses. There should have been more of those, that would also have made the replay better. This makes the levels a bit boring despite of the beautiful and colorful graphics.

The Bottom Line
A great game if you didn't play Rayman advance but if you did you'll be better of with the Rayman 3D games on the consoles and Nintendo DS or Rayman 3's sequel, Rayman Hoodlum's revenge which is an isometric GBA platform game.

By Rensch on November 7, 2007

Pokémon Gold Version (Game Boy Color)

A sequel as a sequel should be. Classic!

The Good
The original games introduced an easy to master but hard to put down RPG experience. You started out with nothing but would soon get a pokémon. Pokémon are strange creatures that use different types of powers to battle each other. You were a trainer and had to collect these creatures and become the pokémon training champion. At first glance it was a simple RPG, but you would soon discover the complex rock/paper/scissors battle system that had you thinking what characters and moves had to be used in battle. Searching out all pokémon wasn't easy and you had to trade with the other versions to get all of them. Some evolve from others, too.

This game vastly improved upon the original games. It is displayed in colours, has a new world to explore making the map twice as big and adds 100 new pokémon.

But apart from those obvious additions there are also a lot of other things the new versions of pokémon added. This game made all those little issues from Red, Blue and Yellow history by making the gameplay much more accessible. For example, items are organized in categories, pokémon are healed when stored in the PC etc.

There are also bigger gameplay additions, many of which are now common sense to fans. Pokémon can now hold items and new obstacles such as waterfalls and whirlpools will have you looking for new abilities to tackle them. There is also a neat little item called the pokegear which has a map, a radio and a phone. It will be vital to get certain pokémon. Two new types of pokémon, the metal-body Steel-type and the nocturnal Dark-type, add new strengths and weaknesses to the mix. The pokédex, the digital pokémon collectors encyclopedia is much more user-friendly and vastly improved.

The new Johto region expands the landmass of the original Kanto region. Off course there are new towns and new bosses to challenge. It houses many new pokémon and you will also discover some pokémon that evolve from older ones or into them. For example Onix can now evolve into Steelix and Pichu evolves in the well-known Pikachu.

You will be playing for quite a while. You will have to link with the other versions to get all pokémon including the original Game Boy versions. The total of 251 unique characters, the ability to play through the classic Kanto world after playing through the main quest and the ability to battle friends via link cable all add up to a lengthy adventure that still stands as one of the best in the series.

Not only the fact that it adds colours to the pokémon universe adds up to the graphics. The pokémon look much better than they did in Red/Blue/Yellow. The world is slightly more detailed.

Sound is great. Some of the catchiest tunes on the Game Boy Color can be found here and every pokémon has its own distinct cry.

The Bad
It may fall a bit short when compared to recent titles in the series. Nowadays, pokémon can be played online over the internet. Many layers of battling that refined the battle system over the years are not yet present in this game.

Also the storage system for pokémon can be really inconvenient at times. You have to save all the time and when a box in it is full, you can't capture any pokémon. This is really annoying when you finally run into that rare pokémon that you've been looking for for a long time.

The Bottom Line
A great update to the original games. It stays true to the original formula while updating it in many great ways.

By Rensch on August 30, 2007

Pokémon Diamond Version (Nintendo DS)

If it ain't broke, why fix it?

The Good
For those who haven't played any of the Pokémon Games: Pokémon is a game in which you travel around the land to capture a wide variety of creatures called pokémon. Pokémon come in many sizes and shapes. You can not only collect them but you'll also battle with them. Since there is a wide variety of pokémon, there is also a wide variety of strengths and weaknesses. These are determined by element-types. Water beats Fire, which beats Grass, but Grass is dominant over Water etc. This combined with many different abilities, techniques and sometimes a secondary element-type, makes for a pretty complex battle system. The pokémon will fight with moves that have those element-types, too, which determines whether or not the opponent pokémon will be weak against them. They will level up after earning points and most of them will eventually transform into more mature and more evolved forms. You can carry up to six with you while you store the others in a Day-Care or Pokécenter. You can battle wild pokémon but you will also be challenged by other trainers. Each version also lacks certain species that need to be traded with the other one. (This review is based on the Diamond version. Pearl is mostly the same but has certain pokémon not available in Diamond and vice versa.)

When pokémon first came out on the Game Boy more than a decade ago, it was a rather simple RPG at first glance but, as you would find out soon, it was very complex. It quickly grew into an enormous craze spawning many new games, cartoons, T-shirts etc.

The sequels that have been released over the years improved the games to make them more and complex, more entertaining and more challenging. The game mostly improves on the DS-unique features such as the touch-screen. Navigating menus in battles is now a breeze and works really nice.

Another big improvement is the support for online play. One of the series' best parts has always been the multiplayer. Swapping over pokémon is needed to collect every last one of them. It's now easier than ever to trade. Not only can you trade with people in your friend-code roster, but there is also the Global Trade Center or GTS, for short. This building allows you to put up a certain pokémon and tell what you want in exchange for it. You can also seek pokémon to see what people have the ones you're looking for and what they want in return. Naturally, battles are also compatible with online play. Gather some friend codes and give your code to your friends and you can battle with your friends from all over the world. The Wi-Fi mode is clearly the biggest advancement and makes this game still fun for pokémon newcomers as well as veterans alike. This will give you a new challenge without having to leave the house. The Battle Tower, which fans will find familiar, supports Wi-Fi, too. You can even upload your team there for others to battle without playing yourself. Another neat feature is the voice chat support. The game supports the headset, too, much like Metroid Prime: Hunters. What sets Pokémon Diamond/Pearl apart from that game's online mode, though, is the fact that you can even chat during gameplay. Text chat is also available. The Wireless LAN connection is here, too. This way you can also link with your friends down the street like you would back in the late 90's, but without having to use a link cable. Another cool feature is the Underground in which you can find some very rare items and make a secret base. (like the ones in the GBA versions) You can also find gems here that you can grow when you bury them and use as money for furniture and dolls to put in your base. You can also buy traps for Capture the Flag, which is played via Wireless LAN and places your flag in your secret base.

Previous games had the PokéGear and PokéNav, Diamond/Pearl has the Pokétch, a watch full of cool features that are just nice gimmicks or really useful. It's much more sophisticated than before and appears on the touch screen. As you play the game you will receive more apps. These include things like a watch, a drawing pad, an app that enables you to find secret items and many more.

Though the formula didn't change very much over the years, it still stands strong as one of the most addictive and entertaining concepts. There still is a world map in typical RPG-style on which you encounter wild pokémon in caves, grass, volcanoes, cities etc. and other trainers with their own pokémon. You catch them inside pokéballs, breed them, battle them, level them up, make them evolve into higher forms and try to become the best trainer in the land along the way by collecting badges of merit. Not much has changed but it's such a good formula that Game Freak's conservatism on this point is perhaps a good thing. A good thing is the fact that day/night effects are back from the GBC versions after being absent for some reason on the GBA. This is very cool, since some pokémon are nocturnal and won't come out until nightfall whilst others don't appear at night. Some pokémon only evolve in certain times of the day, which makes this feature even more complex.

The story is mostly the same as before. You are a young trainer trying to get all the League Badges to gain access to the Pokémon League and collect as much pokémon as possible. There is still a professor who gives you your first critter as well as his grandson who is your rival in pokémon training.

The music, while not the most amazing thing you've ever heard, is still uplifting and you'll soon find yourself humming along with the tunes, especially the battle-screen tunes.

While the main adventure can be completed within a few days, you'll likely keep playing much, much longer. A few new areas will open up to explore and there is just so much small things to discover even after weeks of playing. Obtaining all pokémon will cost months, if not years. There's almost a whopping 500 of them now, including over a 100 new ones! Finding out how to get them takes a lot of patience and is sometimes done in new and unique ways. There are many cool and collectible items with special effects to give to your pokémon, such as berries, medicine and evolution items. Then there is always a team that you can train into the most perfect pokémon, with the most perfect attacks and type-balance to unleash on the Wi-Fi mode. A cool new feature is a place called Pal Park in which you can send over pokémon you trained on the GBA versions and put them back in pokéballs there. They keep their stats, nicknames and items, too. Some pokémon don't appear in both games but can be obtained that way. This series has always done an amazing job in replay value and now it's even better than before as there is most likely a potential for more than a 100 hours of gameplay.

The Bad
While the Wi-Fi mode makes it still a worthy title, I feel the formula, while being very complex and interesting, is getting a bit old. Other than the online play, there aren't as much improvements as previous pokémon games had over their predecessors.

Furthermore, the graphics haven't changed much. The buildings are now 3D models and there are some realistic weather effects. Apart from that it's mostly just sprites, many of which are recycled art from the GBA versions. Seeing the DS is capable of so much more, the game could have had much better graphics and it's a pity Game Freak has remained very conservative when it comes to graphics.

Though the music is pretty nice, the sound effects are not as good. The cries of older pokémon are still the same as in the old GB versions but the new pokémon sound way better. This is weird and the older sound effects are not up to the DS's standards. This may appear weird to players who first play a pokémon games.

Another thing that feels uninspired are some of the pokémon themselves. Most of them are very similar to older ones. This may make those who played earlier games, feel like they are doing something they have done before. To make things even worse, a lot of them actually evolve from or into older pokémon. This makes you wonder if you want to catch them all over again plus more than a 100 new ones.

There are a few things that keep the online mode from being prefect, too. You need friend codes for battles in the pokécenter Wi-Fi club, which is a shame. Metroid Prime: Hunters and Mario Kart DS can seek opponents but Pokémon can't do that. The GTS also has a bit of problems when it comes to fair trading. Many people will ask for pokémon that are rare, powerful and trained to their extremes while offering a pokémon that just hatched from an egg. Wi-Fi doens't support the Underground area, which is a real shame.

You can't send back pokémon to your GBA games once they are transferred to Pal Park.

The Bottom Line
Not much has changed but the DS capabilities such as touch-screen menu navigation and, most notably, the online mode make up for that. Wi-Fi will likely make up for the lack of innovation for old-time fans while it will appeal to new players alike. One of the few games with good GBA-port to DS-port connection, too.

By Rensch on May 13, 2007

The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker (GameCube)

An adventure with an amazing presentation!

The Good
This game blends in so many good things, both old and new, into one great package.

Let's start of with the biggest change; the graphical style. It's totally unlike older games such as the legendary [i]Ocarina of Time[/i]. Instead of the rather realistic look used in that game, this title takes a more cartoonish approach to the graphics to make it look like [i]Four Swords[/i] for the Gameboy Advance but in 3D. But don't be fooled by it's kiddy look! While controversial at first, after seeing it in action it looks amazing. By using a cell-shaded look for characters this game succeeds remarkably well in creating this cartoon style. The characters become much more expressive. Link, the main character, has huge eyes to make his facial expressions much easier to see. This style allows for smooth animation, too. Good examples are clouds of dust or explosions. These look very stylish. While it's totally different it doesn't hurt the series at all, and allows for a style that is simple yet amazingly beautiful at the same time. Kids may find Zelda more enjoyable, too, in this cute, yet cool looking world. The graphics are stunning, just stunning!

The story has Link finding out that his sister has been kidnapped and taken to a fortress in the sea. Since the land of Hyrule has been covered in the sea by the gods to prevent the evil Ganon to threaten the people, most of the map is now water. Once Link arrives at the fortress he finds out Ganon has returned and sets out to find a way to get his sister out of there and defeat Ganon. Although rather simple at first, the story becomes much more complex after playing the game for a few hours. Many characters are new but some fan favorites return, such as Tingle or the Deku Tree. I am not going to spoil it here, but I can say the storyline is great.

Although the graphics are very different from the N64 games, the gameplay remains very similar, but also blends in some new things. As I said before, instead of green fields, there is now a HUGE ocean to explore. There are lots of Islands to see, some big, others tiny but all with their own little secrets. These islands will invite you to explore them and you will often find, in good Zelda fashion, that there's more to them than meets the eye. Since you are out at sea, you travel between them by boat. This boat, the King of Red Lions, can actually talk to you and leads the way by showing where to go on your sea chart. Since it is a sailing boat. You control the sail so if you want to get somewhere, you must have the wind blowing in the right direction. That's where the most important item in the game comes in: the Wind Waker, a magical conductors baton that gives Link the divine power to control the wind, if he knows the right songs. This is much like the Ocarina of Time was in previous games. Besides controlling the wind, other songs have other purposes, which I will not spoil here. There are other elements that are affected by the wind such as parachuting with your Deku Leaf. This item allows you to glide, but if the wind is blowing in the wrong way, you won't get very far. This element has a big and interesting impact on gameplay. While these items are new, most of them are familiar, such as the Boomerang, Hookshot, Rupees, Triforce Shards etc. For the rest of the game, it's all pretty much the same formula as before, but once again done so well that this is not a bad point at all. There are towns to replenish your health and stock up on items, fairy fountains to be found and, off course, the dungeons. These dungeons are once again full of fun puzzles that challenge you but never grow to tough to find out. At the end of each dungeon there is the occasional boss fight. As always, the new items you have found in the dungeon will be vital to defeating the boss, you just have to find out how to use them on it. Other enemies are mostly familiar but require you to use different items to beat them. Although the main quest it not too hard, there are lots of side-quests to do, such as finding the heart pieces, collecting treasure charts and making pictures of characters which will serve an interesting purpose if you look carefully. If you need help finding the treasures there is the Tingle Tuner item, a great GC to GBA connection that will give you hints where to fish up treasures. You can fish these up with your Grappling Hook when aboard your boat. Trying out items aboard your boat will get different results compared to when they are used on land. Bombs will become a cannon, the Grappling Hook becomes a crane etc. This is a very nice touch to the game. All these little touches will make you come back for more. They all add up to one of the greatest gameplay experiences on the GameCube. Amazing, simply amazing!

The sound is great but it doesn't add too much to the game. Although you'll be humming them soon, you may miss some classic tunes if you've played other Zelda games. Sound effects are classic, which I liked.

The Bad
Sailing across the sea gets boring quickly when you sail long distances, which is often!

Playing the wind song all the time to change the wind's direction gets irritating after a while.

Sometimes there really is no clue where to go next, especially when about halfway through the game.

Some classic tunes are absent.

The Bottom Line
A very stylish adventure with lots of things to do and see. Difficult to put down. It's easily one of the best titles for the GameCube and will amaze you from it's charming visual style to it's excellent gameplay.

By Rensch on April 20, 2007

Pokémon LeafGreen Version (Game Boy Advance)

Another remake of a classic on the GBA? Yes! But one of the better ones.

The Good
Off course it's still the "Gotta catch em all!" and "become the best trainer" formula, but that remains fun. Now that you can link up with Ruby, Sapphire, Emerald, LeafGreen, FireRed and Colosseum, you really are able to get a LOT of Pokémon in each of these games, so that some veterans of the series may still like this. You start with nothing not even a Pokémon but you will soon obtain your first one from Professor Oak. The main quest is still mostly the same but some confusing things have been worked out better and some things have also been changed so that they fit well with recent titles. Another great new feature is the Sevii Islands, a new region that is not as big as others in the series but it still is fun. You can only reach this area if you become the champion which is more challenging than ever, but it's very rewarding since there are some Pokémon not obtainable previously on GBA and NGC. The graphics are colorful but simple but OK if you consider how deep and complex the rest of the game is if you look just a bit further than just the craze for kids a few years ago. The menus and world map are looking clear and you know what to do. You can even call up a great help system. Also the trainers and Pokémon look better than in previous games. Another neat addition is the new way of linking via the Wireless Adapter is a great step forward in the complex multiplayer of Pokémon. This really helps making it still one of the game's best parts.

The Bad
It's a bit of a letdown if you played the original GB version if you can also buy the other GBA versions which are set in a new world with Pokémon not seen before.

The Bottom Line
If you have not played the original yet, however (poor soul) than this game is your change to experience this brilliant RPG and be amazed by the classic adventure were it all began and it's complex battle system. Gotta catch em all! PIKA-CHU!

By Rensch on August 16, 2006

New Super Mario Bros. (Nintendo DS)

Finally a new Mario side scrolling game, and it's awesome!

The Good
It is a Mario game in classic side scrolling glory! It's been quite a while since we saw the last really big Mario Bros. game: Super Mario World which launched with the SNES. But now there is NSMB. It feels absolutely like a Super Mario Bros. game should. The greatest elements from previous installments are put together in one awesome game. There are power-ups similar to the suits from Mario 3, warp pipes, secret exits and Star Coins to collect from Mario World and the Red Coins are back too. These are just a few examples of all-time classic Mario elements used in NSMB.

The power-ups include many new ones. Besides the fire flower that gives you the famous Fire Suit there is also the Koopa Shell, which gives you the ability to smash into enemies and walls and gives better swimming abilities (like Mario 3's Frog Suit). There are also a very tiny and a very big mushroom. The mini mushroom shrinks Mario so he can fit through small holes or pipes and makes him lighter, allowing for higher jumping and walking on water. The big mushroom makes Mario grow for a short time so he can destroy all obstacles and enemies that get in his way. The levels have the classic themes we all know and love: Grass, Pipe, Desert etc. These themes are far from original but that's not really a problem. In classic Mario Fashion, it's about level design, which is again done in a superb way. There's tilting platforms, pipes that lead to bonus areas, snow that falls from trees on Mario's head, Koopas, Goombas and basically everything we've come to expect from a Mario game. The bosses are more diversified than in previous Mario games, but the sub-boss, in the form of Bowser Jr., can get a bit repetitive. This is a bit of a letdown, but fortunately gets a bit harder every time, making the difficulty of these battles grow at a steady rate.

Mario also has some new moves, mostly translated into side scrolling gameplay from Super Mario 64 DS such as the wall jump. You will enjoy smashing boxes, collecting coins and power ups and fighting baddies just like you did on the NES and SNES systems. The graphics are also done in a great style. The characters look just about the same as they did in Super Mario 64 DS. They are all done in pretty 3D models and translate well into the 2D world, which is in classic pixel art. Although they have the more detailed style instead of the simple style used in the old days, you still get the feel that those classic games had, which is nice. Everything is animated well and things like opening doors and underwater areas look brilliant and really show the excellent blend of 2D and 3D graphics. Everything is colorful and suits the classic style as it should.

The story is just as simple as always, Bowser and Bowser Jr. have kidnapped Princess Peach once again and Mario must save her. While not very original, it should be this way. Without Peach to save a SMB game wouldn't be complete and the simple story has its charm. Once completed there is quite some Star Coins to collect and art to unlock as well as secret paths to find which will keep you busy for a while. The worlds are full of normal courses as well as Ghost houses, Warp Cannons, Towers and castles, just like in the old days. Music is great and most tunes are new. They are really cheerful and sound great on the stereo speakers the DS has. The sound effects are mostly classic NES sounds but they still work surprisingly well more then twenty years later. Some sounds had to be added, most notably the beautiful sound of closing a door.

The Bad
Is it all greatness, or are there any flaws? Well, yes, unfortunately. First of all this game is rather easy. When following the game in standard order you miss out a whole two worlds of all eight. Instead of making two secret and extra hard worlds as an extra challenge after beating Bowser, like in Super Mario World, you just skip them and do the hardest world earlier on, which is just plain weird. The later levels are just not as challenging as the ones in earlier Mario titles. If you manage to find all levels and exits, gaining access to all Star Coins isn't really challenging. Since you can often make things easier by getting a power up in a Toad house on the map, so you won't have to bother with all those hazards, picking up the Star Coins is never as challenging as the hardest Yoshi Coins of SMW which had five on each level. NSMB has only three Star Coins in each level. You can complete all these tasks to unlock some art but nothing special. There is also another surprise which is given after beating the game once, which is a bit more interesting and which I'm not going to spoil here. There is also a multiplayer via wireless connection in which Mario and Luigi race for stars. While this may be fun for a while, the overall blandness of it makes you stop quickly, returning to the excellent single player mode.

The world maps are very simple. SMB3 and SMW had players travelling over the maps to find all secrets in them and they were very different from the ones seen in previous worlds. They had roads stretching in totally different directions. Every world was a lot bigger than the previous one. This is not the case with NSMB. The maps are basically one road from left to right with some paths connected to it leading to one or two new levels and ending in a dead end at the last one. Only the last world is significantly bigger than the others, which is a shame. As said before, the sub-boss Bowser Jr. battles may be a bit repetitive at times. A little less of these to make every battle feel more challenging and fresh, perhaps may have been better. Some of the moves translated from Super Mario 64 DS are not really needed, something I already experienced while playing that game.

The Bottom Line
While not being of the same amazing quality as Super Mario Bros. 3 and Super Mario World, New Super Mario Bros. is still a very, VERY solid buy for both experienced Mario players and newbies. It's second only to these two famous classics when it comes to side scrolling games in the franchise. And, as we all know, that's a VERY big name to live up to.

By Rensch on July 18, 2006

Metroid Prime: Hunters (Nintendo DS)

Nice single player, brilliant multiplayer!

The Good
The first thing you'll notice about this game is its graphics. It looks brilliant and was probably the prettiest looking DS game at its release. Everything is detailed and sharp. And, in typical Metroid style, the levels are really atmospheric and have their own themes and climates each. As always you cannot fully explore them yet. There are no suit updates this time but there is still a number of different weapons to collect, which are all new. The story (as one can expect from Metroid) is quite deep and interesting. A mysterious message from the distant Alimbic Cluster is send to the farthest reaches of the universe and translated into over a thousand different languages, but the message is always the same: "The secret to ultimate power lies in the Alimbic cluster". The Galactic Federation, which includes earth and the human race, also picks up this message and sends Samus Aran, their best bounty hunter, to investigate. But since the message is send to so many different cultures, there is a twist in this Metroid game: You are not the only bounty hunter anymore. Six other bounty hunters are determined to get hold of the ancient Alimbic relics, and claim the ultimate power for themselves. Each hunter has his own motives for obtaining the ultimate power and has his own favorite weapon and specific capabilities. Each hunter has his own alt form, equal to Samus' Morph Ball which adds a lot of depth to battling them.

The hunters include:

Samus: You play with Samus as always. Samus is send to investigate the message and find and obtain the ultimate power. If this is impossible she must destroy it. Samus has her famous missile launcher as weapon.

Spire: Spire is the last of the Diamont, an almost extinct race. He hopes to find the ultimate power to learn what happened to his people.

Kanden: Kanden was designed as the ultimate fighter but he escaped the lab he was built in. His nervous system couldn't take his powers anymore and he became aggressive and unpredictable. He wants to gain the ultimate power to prove himself as the greatest hunter.

Trace: Trace is a Kriken, a very imperialistic race. He hopes finding the ultimate power will help him expand the Kriken empire, making sure he will be a honored man among his people.

Noxus: Noxus is a Vho. He's a mysterious being walking a hard but righteous path. He seeks the ultimate power to prevent it from falling into criminal hands.

Sylux: This dangerous bounty hunter is shrouded in mystery. Little is known about him other than the fact that he hates the Galactic Federation and their most respected bounty hunter: Samus Aran.

Weavel: Weavel is a member of Samus' worst enemy organization: The space pirates. Weavel was almost killed in a confrontation with the space pirates. His remaining organs were fused wit a suit making him a powerful cyborg. It's unknown if he wants the power to make his people powerful or keep it for himself.

These profiles make the story even greater. The hunters appear every once in a while in predetermined rooms. They are not really bosses, though. Real bosses are found, too. There are only two of them, though, but they gain in power in with each encounter.

Multiplayer is probably the greatest thing of this game. You can play in a number of different modes similar to those found in similar games (Battle, King of the Hill etc.). It's almost up to the ranks of Quake and Unreal Tournament, which is a huge achievement for a handheld game. There is a large amount of maps so you'll play this for a long time. You can play over LAN or internet. The Wi-Fi possibilities make this game great. There is even voice chat support since the DS has a microphone. This is used before and after battle. You can play any of the other hunters once you beat them in the single player mode.

One might think that playing a shooter on a handheld doesn't work very well, but with the touch screen works well. It needs some practice but it works really good once you master it.

Everything sounds great as we've come to expect from Metroid, so nothing with this.

The Bad
The single player is fairly linear and somewhat short. I missed the exploration part. Although it was present it's just not as complex as in other Metroid titles.

The multiplayer doesn't support other modes than Battle when playing without friend codes. Also it doesn't support voice chat without these codes, but that's because of safety reasons.

Some capabilities (such as the sniper/invisibility power of Trace or Sylux' electric gun.) have bigger advantages in multiplayer games than the powers of other hunters.

Just four worlds.

The Bottom Line
Although the single player could have been somewhat bigger and more complex, the multiplayer mode more than makes up for it. An essential buy for any DS owner, especially if you look for online games for the DS.

By Rensch on May 7, 2006

Super Mario World: Super Mario Advance 2 (Game Boy Advance)

This classic gem remains just as good as it was in the early 90's. In fact it's even better than before!

The Good
This game was one of the first SNES titles and introduced us to Yoshi the popular dino pal of Luigi. It's back on the GBA an it's additions make it just that little bit better. The gameplay remains some of the best ever seen in a video game. It hasn't aged at all and still feels as fun and addictive as ever. All the levels of the SNES are back and the brilliant level design that keeps you focused all the time works just as well as it did on the SNES. There is simply nothing bad to say about this part of the game. The graphics are a bit simplistic but they make sure you don't lose the feeling of the SNES classic. The catchy tunes are back and voices are included in this version and the sound remains good and doesn't sound too different from the SNES version. The lasting value of this game is still amazing. After defeating Bowser you still can go for all Yoshi coins and try to beat the Star World which is out of the main quest or even try to beat the horribly difficult Special World. This game has some additions that were not present in the original such as a playable Luigi (complete with advantages and disadvantages when compared to his brother) and a level list that shows beaten levels and which goals you achieved in them. Also included is the Mario Bros. arcade game also included in other GBA Mario games including the multiplayer mode.

The Bad
There is no two player mode in Super Mario World on the SNES like NES Mario games had. Nintendo didn't fix that for the GBA version. Only the arcade Mario Bros. has multiplayer. The graphics look a little bit aged at times. Instead of Mario Bros. which was also on the first Mario Advance game, Nintendo could have added another game instead but it's a nice extra nonetheless since you buy it for SMW.

The Bottom Line
One of those few games you don't mind being a port. This is one of the games that should be in your GBA collection. Still great if you played it on the SNES, if not you'll like it even better. Must have!

By Rensch on February 11, 2006

Kirby: Canvas Curse (Nintendo DS)

Forget Yoshi Touch 'n Go! Kirby rolls onto the DS!

The Good
The gameplay which is clearly the most important part of the game is also the best part of the game. It's played entirely with the stylus on the touch screen. You draw lines to guide Kirby who has been transformed into a ball by an evil witch, and can only roll. You can speed up Kirby by touching him or making him go trough loops. This gives unique gameplay similar to Yoshi Touch 'n Go but it's got an actual storyline making it a much more sophisticated game. There are copy abilities as usual, which has always been a great part of the series. The graphics are similar to previous Kirby games but although they don't have much improvement they are still great. Since the witch has transformed Dreamland into a painting everything is done in a clever painting-style that looks interesting. There are seven worlds each containing three levels and 3 types of bosses in unique boss-games. There is a wide variety of enemies to kill that give you your powers. Also, there are lots of traps and hazards that can be avoided or blocked with lines, such as lasers, spikes and cannonballs. The sound is the typical Kirby style of happy and catchy tunes, which is a good thing. Replay is good with plenty of things to unlock obtained by collecting all medals and beating all levels .

The Bad
Not as much copy abilities as on the GBA versions, which is a shame. And, not really a point you can criticize because of the stylus-based gameplay, but you still miss Kirby's famous suck-up-enemies power.

The Bottom Line
A unique and extremely fun game that is one of those games you buy a DS for. If you liked Yoshi Touch 'n Go but thought it still missed something, this is absolutely your game. Combine this gameplay with some classic Kirby elements and you have a game that should be in your DS collection.

By Rensch on January 15, 2006

Kirby's Dream Land (Game Boy)

Fun and original gameplay but, oh my goodness, what a short and easy game.

The Good
The graphics are pretty good. There is enough detail and it's in a typical Nintendo style, similar to Super Mario Land 2 and Wario Land. The gameplay, though, is the most original part of the game. Kirby doesn't have any weapons or powers, except his vacuum cleaner-like ability to suck up enemies and spit them out or swallow them, and the ability to puff up into like a balloon to fly. By spitting out enemies Kirby can defeat enemies, although most can be swallowed. There are a lot of enemies, but none of them are really dangerous. Flying makes it easy to maneuver through the levels, but it's done in a way that you can't skip too much using this power. The tunes are some of the most memorable on the Game boy and nice to listen to.

The Bad
It's REALLY short. Only five levels and within an hour the credits will roll on your Game boy screen. Not only is it short but it's also REALLY easy. Only children or those who are seeking for a good introduction to the platform genre will appreciate this. It's for these people this game was made. If you finish the game you will learn how to play a harder version but it's still very easy. The much bigger and longer NES sequel Kirby's Adventure was also easy, but because it was bigger and longer it didn't feel so bad, and, more importantly, it had copy abilities giving suits like Wario Land of Super Mario Bros. 3 had but much more. In this game the same enemies are seen, but no copy abilities. It's an earlier game but it still feels bad.

The Bottom Line
Fun and original, but very short and easy. Only for less experienced gamers should buy this. If you want a Kirby game, try Kirby's Adventure or one of the many other sequels out there.

By Rensch on January 4, 2006

Pokémon Emerald Version (Game Boy Advance)

What Yellow and Crystal were for previous games, now for Ruby and Sapphire.

The Good
Well, Ruby and Sapphire were brilliant games and this is a longer version of those games, so it's a great game. However, if you've played these games before you may not want to pay for this. If you did not, however I can easily recommend this game. For newbies: You are a trainer of Pokémon. Pokémon are creatures that can be caught with Pokéballs. This is one of the main quests. The other one is to become the best trainer by defeating the champion. First you need to defeat some local bosses, called Gym Leaders, If you collect the badges they award you, you can challenge the best trainers in the land to defeat them. After having done this all areas are accessible. A lot of Pokémon are caught. Others may be obtained by evolving less mature and developed races of Pokémon. Some need to be bred and there are also Pokémon that don't appear in your version and need to be traded from other versions. In Emerald it's none other. This brings a great multiplayer system that uses the link option of the Game Boy Advance perfectly. The characters (386 in all) are recorded in the Pokédex encyclopedia obtained early in the game. Pokémon come in many forms. They are divided in 17 different classes. This gives a rock, paper, scissors system that brings a lot of strategy in the game. A fire-type attack is dominant over a grass type pokémon but a fire type pokémon is weak against an aquatic attack, but aquatic pokémon are weak against grass attacks themselves. The user's type, its abilities and more factors also influence how weak or strong it is against certain attacks. Some types are even immune to others. The surrounding of you character can tell you what sort of Pokémon are found there. Grass and Bug Pokémon hide in forests, Rock Pokémon in mountains or caves and water species in water. Hoenn, the world in this game, is just as varied as its creatures because of this. If you played Ruby and Sapphire you will only find the side quests interesting. If not you will enjoy the main quest too. The replay is still important to the value since it's very hard to get your hands on all critters and there are also side quests. New in this version is the Battle Frontier. This park for trainers is full of battle challenges that even veterans who have played Pokémon for years will find difficult. Those players will recognize the Battle Tower, but most of it is new. A few similar buildings can be found before you gain access to the Frontier which are also new. Each of the seven Frontier challenges has it's own boss just as in the main quest. It also has some more Pokémon not seen in Ruby, Sapphire, Fire Red and Leaf Green but only on the Game Cube games or old games that cannot link with a Game Boy Advance game. The story is better because you need to challenge enemies from both Ruby and Sapphire. There are some new caves and some places are larger but that's it. Graphics are simple but clear and fun to look at. They do what they should and with a large game as this no superb graphics have to be expected. Sound gives some of the better tunes on Game Boy Advance. The gameplay explained above is very addictive, yet one of the easiest RPG's to pick up. Much more than you'd think if you look at the hype of Pokémon back in the late 90's and the cute graphics

The Bad
Besides the battle Frontier and some classic Game Boy Color Pokémon it simply doesn't add enough to the game to make it worth a buy for Ruby/Sapphire owners except the die-hard fans. The stupid noise the pokémon cry out has not developed at all since 1996, when the first Pokémon games were released.

The Bottom Line
As always, great sound, nice graphics, superb replay, just as brilliant multiplayer and just plain fun, highly addictive gameplay. But not much new things if you played Ruby or Sapphire. If you didn't play them, however, buy this version instead, It'll be worth it!

By Rensch on December 27, 2005

Super Mario Land 2: 6 Golden Coins (Game Boy)

One of the best Game Boy platform games, but far too easy.

The Good
Wario has taken over mario's castle during his absence and has locked the door with coins. Then he spread all coins through Mario Land. Now world's most famous plumber must get all six of them and kick Wario of his throne. Gameplay is just as you'd expect from Mario. Going down pipes, jumping on Koopa shells and Goombas and collecting coins. This is always a good formula and remains entertaining over the years. The graphics are much, much better than those of Super Mario Land 1. Compare the NES Super Mario Bros. with its two sequels and you have about the same graphical differences here. Everything is detailed and has a good-looking cartoon style. The blocks now have faces on them and change into angry ones when hit. The enemies and Mario move more fluid and are easier to control. The sound is of a good quality and cheerful.

The Bad
The game was far too easy and I played trough it in just a few hours. Thankfully there are some secret levels too find but there is no other replay than that, which is disappointing. They are also not too difficult to find. The sound, as I said is good, but almost the entire game you will be hearing the same tune, which makes it repetitive. Only the way it sounds (cheerful, suspenseful etc.) differs. In all there are just about three different tunes or so.

The Bottom Line
Fun platform game, but too easy for more experienced platform game players. If you like the Mario series I can really recommend this game. (And who doesn't?)

By Rensch on December 16, 2005

Mario Kart DS (Nintendo DS)

Good old fashioned racing fun but finally with online gameplay. An essential buy for any DS owner.

The Good
A lot! The gameplay is fast and smooth and, to put it simply, just as it should be. Most of the old power-ups return, such as banana peels and shells, but there are also two new ones. There's Bullet Bill, which temporarily transforms you into a bullet that crashes through everything, and Squitter, a squid that covers the top screen with ink obscuring your sight. The tracks are well designed and are full of stuff fans will recognize immediately, including turbo-tiles, pipes on the track and more. There are 32 tracks in total. There is the Nitro GP. This consists of 16 tracks that are all new in this version including Tick-Tock Clock, Delfino Square and the totally crazy Waluigi Pinball. Also available is the Retro GP. Long-time fans will love this since it consists of 16 tracks from previous games. There are classics such as Mario Circuit 1 from Super Mario Kart and Moo Moo Farm from Mario Kart 64. Some of the older tracks are by far not as spectacular as the new tracks but they are still great to play. It's still pretty amazing to see how well the SNES and GBA tracks have been transformed from old mode 7 graphics into 3D. Besides Grand Prix there is time trial to break records and the VS mode which is a single race on a track you choose yourself. The Battle Mode is back, too. There is balloon battle, the winner is the one that is the last one standing. You die if you lost all of your 5 balloons. A nice touch is that you can blow them up by blowing in the microphone, instead of using the select button. There is also Shine Runners. The winner is the one with the most shines. Now and then a counter starts. When it reaches zero, the one with the least shines dies. The Battle arena's include a giant Nintendo DS, an enormous cake, a big plaza with the famous Mario pipes and more. These are just as great as the tracks and are very varied. Finally there is the Mission mode. These are set on the tracks and arena's and have missions such as driving through gates in order or hitting five fish before time runs out. After you defeat a world you will even have to battle a boss from Super Mario 64 DS, which is a very cool touch to an already great addition to the series. The graphics are some of the best on the DS so far. Especially the new tracks and NGC tracks look great and are detailed. There is a lot to see from a swinging clock pendulum that blocks the road and a Mario sculpture to a market and cars driving in the opposite direction. As mentioned before, some of the older tracks look a bit too inferior to the new tracks, but it's still very nice to look at. The main characters are all present again and, just as the tracks there are some that need to be unlocked. There are not as much characters as in Double Dash on the GameCube but it's still a big gang of your favorite Mario characters. There are really a lot of karts here, such as Donkey Kong's friend Rambi the Rhino as a car, Mario's 50's style race car and Peach's Bigfoot. Eventually you'll even be able to use cars that don't belong to your selected character. But there is one addition that dramatically improves the series and it's replay value. This is the Wi-Fi play enabling you to play with people from around the world. You can create your own icon (which appears on your kart) with the build-in paint program and a nickname. These are visible in both single and multiplayer sessions. With the Wi-Fi play the series finally reaches it's full potential. Off course there is also the LAN connection with both single card play (with all players but the host playing as Shy Guy) and multi-cart play. (so you can play with all characters.) The sound is excellent, too and you'll find yourself humming along with the tunes soon. All sound effects and tunes sound crisp and clear and, if you put on the stereo sound and put the volume in the highest position, you will in pure fun-racing heaven.

The Bad
Some of the older tracks look a bit dated mostly because there is not so much to see. The creators could have put some more scenery in them. The biggest complaint about this game, however, is that only 20 of 32 tracks are playable online. I wonder why.

The Bottom Line
This is easily one of the best DS games so far and some people say it's the best Mario Kart ever making it one of the best racing games ever. This could very well be true. It looks good, plays good, sounds good, has some innovations and, most importantly, it's multiplayer supports online play, making the replayability virtually infinite. What more could you want. A gem that no Nintendo DS owner should miss. Why are you still reading this? Go buy it, NOW!

By Rensch on December 8, 2005

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