Review – Castlevania: Order of Ecclesia (DS)

Developer/Publisher: Konami
Year: 2008
Fun Fact: the 10th Castlevania game released this decade (I think)

There’s been a handheld Castlevania game every single year since 2001 (counting the GBA port of the original NES game) but Order of Ecclesia is the BEST, which is quite an accomplishment given the extremely high regard and ratings the other releases have received. The latest release, starring fair, amnesiac maiden Shonoa, takes some of the strongest elements of past Castlevania games and combines them into an airtight new game.

Introduced in Ecclesia is a world map, breaking somewhat from the strict Metroidvania setup of most of Castlevania outings since 1997. The world map works more or less like you’d expect allowing the player to move freely from one area to another. The areas are unveiled over the course of the game and provide a wide variety. Some areas are basically straightforward action levels similar to what one might expect from pre-1997 Castlevanias. Others require more exploration and treasure-hunting. In other words, if you love the Metroidvania playing style, it’s still here, but it’s not the exclusive design idea.

The game features all of the RPG elements of recent Castlevanias, as well as side quests that seem somewhat Zelda-ish, as in inane little errands performed by request. Some of these side jaunts will reward the player with useful items, while some seem less worthwhile. Magic Points are included and every single offensive maneuver uses some of them but, thankfully, they auto-replenish. The items that use most of the magic are ‘glyphs’ aka weapons. Glyphs are somewhat similar to previous Castlevania ideas in that many of them are dropped by enemies and provide some new ability. The glyphs are equipped just like weapons and used in the same manner. Various glyphs can be combined for abilities and especially strong attacks. Some can also affect performance and status – my favorite allows Shonoa to move at seriously fast speeds.

Unlike most of the Koji Igarashi-produced Castlevania titles, Ecclesia is actually difficult! I died many, many times at the hands of bosses, especially. In fact, it was equipment that got me through the final boss fights more than my stats. Along with the surprisingly high difficulty level is a surprisingly high-quality story. It’s not epic but it makes some sense and offers something more than the ‘some jerk wants to resurrect Dracula’ line.

Grade: A+
Conclusion: Get it!


Review – Metroid Prime Hunters (DS)

Developer: Nintendo Software Technology Corporation
Publisher: Nintendo
Year: 2006
Fun fact: from the developers of the platformers Bionic Commando: Elite Forces (GBC) and Mario vs. Donkey Kong (GBA).

All right, here’s the same disclaimer I provided when I reviewed Metroid Prime 2: perhaps Metroid Prime Hunters isn’t truly a platformer but it descends from a fine platforming dynasty and there’s definitely a lot of platforming going on. With that out of the way, it should be noted that Hunters is much more of a platformer than the other Prime entries. In fact, it has one classic platformer element that, if memory serves, has never been in another Metroid game: bottomless pits that instantly kill you!

If you expect Hunters to be somewhat dumbed down compared to the other Prime entries, give yourself a cookie. The exploration elements are much simpler (I figured most of them out for myself for a change). The total explorable area in the game is much smaller than in other games in the series. Additionally, the game is basically level-based and there is a low variety of bosses.

Fortunately, it turns out that sometimes being dumb ain’t so bad. Really, does every Metroid installment have to be the same? The level-based aspect is actually a refreshing change. The main negative aspect of this feature is that there’s definitely a formula in EACH level that goes like this: wander around, fight a rival bounty hunter, find three artifacts that activate a boss portal, fight a boss, and then race back to your ship under tight time constraints. There are really only two boss types between the levels, meaning you repeatedly fight a variation of a spinning pillar and a tentacled eyeball.

In spite of the formulaity, there is a lot to enjoy in the action-heavy design. Unlike many claims, the game is NOT merely a first person shooter in a Metroid setting – there are still many puzzles to unravel and atmospheric areas that don’t have any enemies at all. Speaking of atmosphere, it’s just what you’d hope for in a Metroid adventure. The graphics and audio are great and in line with the template established by the GameCube Prime games.

Finally, the controls – you use the d-pad or buttons to move side-to-side or back-and-forth, a shoulder button to fire, and the stylus to do everything else, at least in the standard control setup. This is somewhat awkward as you basically have to hold the DS unit with one hand and constantly use the stylus with the other. I got used to it fairly quickly but during long play stretches I felt mild annoyance in my hands.

Play the GameCube Metroid Primes first and then check out this high-quality diversion for a different take.

Grade: B+
Personal conclusion: Who knew Samus had rival bounty hunters?

Review – Wario Land Shake It! (Wii)

Developer: Good Feel
Publisher: Nintendo
Year: 2008
Fun Fact: the 8th platformer/action game starring Wario (or 10th if you count Super Mario 64 DS and Yoshi’s Island DS).

Sometimes people grow up with a video game franchise and they defend it no matter how crappy the series becomes. Other people grow up with a series and overreact to any slip in quality. When it comes to the Wario Land series, I might fall into the latter group. I just could not get into Wario Land Shake It!. Unlike the wretched Wario: Master of Disguise, there aren’t any glaring mistakes but the level design can certainly be described as uninspired. Many of the situations and layouts reminded me of other games. For whatever reason, the original Yoshi’s Island often sprung to mind but always in a negative contrast sort of way. Continue reading

Review: Super Paper Mario (Wii)

Super Paper Mario is a cross between the RPG and side-scrolling platformer genres. When you kill enemies, you gain experience, this enhances this games play back quality. As gaining levels is vital when you need to kill a boss.

You start off as Mario, princess Peach is captured, surprise surprise, so Mario goes to save her from Bowser. The kidnapping wasn’t Bowsers doing, it is then revealed that Count Bleck, a sorcerer who wields an ancient, prophetical tome called the Dark Prognosticus kidnapped her..   Continue reading

Mushroom Men Preview

Gaming news site IGN had a chance to preview the upcoming Wii platformer Mushroom Men: The Spore Wars.

We really like the moody atmosphere of Mushroom Men, and there aren’t enough adventure games on the Wii. If they can handle the waggle controls, players should be getting a pretty unique experience later this year.

Not everything they had to say was positive. To read the full preview click here. Or hit up their gallery for some new images.

Reviews – Prince of Persia AND Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame (Macintosh)

Developer/Publisher: Broderbund
Year: 1992/1993

Fun fact: The Mac version of Prince of Persia is available as a bonus feature in all versions of Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time. Prince of Persia 2 was available on the Xbox version of Sands.Prince of Persia is a great game that may take a bit of time and effort to get into. The 1993 sequel is a great game but also THE MOST FRUSTRATING GAME EVER ARGH.Prince of Persia 2 it becomes obvious that the Mac version of POP was a trial run for this game. The overal feel is very familiar and veterans will feel right at home but ARGH! The Shadow and the Flame is an evil, evil game but it’s also brilliant. While it uses the same gameplay and graphics engines as the prequel, it looks beautiful but IT IS HARD. It is a HARD game. I just can’t say that enough. Some of the enemies are totally frustrating. There is a lot more variety in the dungeons and you never know what you might hit next. If you don’t have the manual you’re going to need to look up a guide because the controls and your options are generally more complicated. Continue reading

Review – Metroid Prime 2: Echoes (GameCube)

Developer: Retro Studios
Publisher: Nintendo
Year: 2004
Fun Fact: the 7th game in the Metroid series

I know what you’re (possibly) thinking: “Wait. Is this really a platformer game?” I’m going to have to say “yes”. It’s true that the Metroid Prime games are primarily first-person shooters that have very heavy adventure elements but MP2E also has a lot of jumpin’ around.  You’ll jump as often as you shoot so, having justified my position (maybe), onto the game . . . Continue reading