May 26, 2009

New Play Control: Donkey Kong Jungle Beat

New Play Control! Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is a re-release under the New Play Control label. It is based off the original Donkey Kong Jungle Beat on the GameCube and has been reworked with some changes and additions including the use of the unique controls of the Nintendo Wii. Originally, Jungle Beat made use of the Donkey Kong Bongo Drums accessory, which at the time was an innovative and unique controller for the GameCube system. From first glance this game is your typical Donkey Kong side scrolling adventure in which you traverse levels avoiding obstacles, collecting bananas and preparing for the great battle against the final boss. However once you start playing you realize there is a little more here.

The storyline of Jungle Beat is centered on Donkey Kong reclaiming all of the Jungle Kingdoms that have been over run by a pack of wild baddies who have stolen a boat load of bananas. The main levels, Jungle Kingdoms, are broken down into three different smaller levels, two being action levels and one being a boss level. The controls throughout these levels are pretty simple and make use of both the Wii Remote and Nunchuk. The basic controls are “A” to jump and the analog stick on the Nunchuk to walk, run or swim. The more advanced controls involve extra button pushing to perform Air Grabs, Ground Slaps, Ground Pounds, Wall Jumps and Back Flips. In addition to the buttons, shaking the Wii Remote or Nunchuk will allow you to perform a Sound-Wave attack or perform a variety of moves based on the object you are near when you shake the remote.

The first two action levels within each kingdom require you to use all of your controls to collect as many bananas as possible. Collect them off the ground or grab them out of the air, the latter will earn you more banana points. Pull off some stylish combos and this too will earn you banana points. It is important to note that the more bananas you collect the more health you will have in the final level to beat the boss, so performing air grabs and combos really pays off in the end. During the action levels you have three health hearts, which you can replenish by collecting other hearts throughout the level or after having collected 200, 500 and 1000 bananas. If your health is at its peak when you reach banana plateaus a 1-up coin will appear instead of a heart.

The final level of each Jungle Kingdom features a boss stage where, as mentioned before, the bananas you have collected in the previous stages become your health for the battle. Each boss has a weak spot that you will need to focus on as it will make beating the boss easier. The boss battles are by far the most enjoyable levels of the game, especially the boxing-style battles where you have to outsmart the boss by dodging and throwing in a quick succession of punches to defeat your foe.

After completing a Jungle Kingdom you have the opportunity to earn crests. Your final banana point score, after taking into account the damage you incurred during your King (Boss) Battle, will be tallied. If you have collected enough points, for example 200 or 500, you will earn a crest from the tree spirit. I found collecting the crests to be quite difficult especially after having been continually pulverized to near death during the King Battles. Some practice and some careful attention to the Boss weak spots pays off in the end as you earn crests and these crests might help something good happen down the road (no spoiler here).

The gameplay at times seems very simple, but as you progress through the game some portions can seem extremely agonizing as you try futilely to jump to certain area, only to find that your approach wasn’t the best. However, the majority of the levels are laid out pretty well and you can avoid some of these agonizing moments. The only complaint I really have about the gameplay is that the length of play is a little shorter than I would have liked and I wished there was a bit more “meat on the bones” in this area.

Jungle Beat is relatively strong in the graphics department which may seem strange considering that the original title was originally created for an earlier generation console. Each Jungle Kingdom level is beautifully crafted with vibrant coloured landscapes and is full of rich detail like floating clouds, swaying trees and even the little monkeys waving at you trying to get your attention. The characters within the game are really well done too, with some special attention having been put into Donkey Kong’s facial expressions which range from happy, thoughtful to enraged depending on the situations he finds himself in. The baddies throughout the game are not as detailed as Donkey Kong, but then again you seem to pay less attention on them as you play through the game. Overall I was surprised at how well the original graphics held up and anyone who plays this game will enjoy the visuals that Jungle Beat provides.

The music is instrumental and very typical of Donkey Kong or any similar styled Nintendo title. It is upbeat, cheery and very suitable to the on-screen action. As with the music you can expect the some typical sound effects including the distinctive tone/chime when you collect an item or your bananas to the familiar sound of Donkey Kong’s monkey grunts. As I played there were various times that I found the combination of the music and sound effects could seem a little frenzied and overwhelming. It’s not particularly a bad thing, just something that I noticed. Jungle Beat also makes use of the speaker in the Wii Remote to add another level of sound to the game. A varied selection of sounds such as blasts, impacts as your attacks land against your enemy, and even the cheers when you defeat a certain creature, can be heard through the Wii Remote. Overall the sound effects are plentiful and suited for this type of game.

New Play Control! Donkey Kong Jungle Beat is a solid Nintendo title that I would recommend to Donkey Kong fans and newcomers alike. Although the gameplay length was shorter then I envisioned the introduction of Wii centric controls leads to the game being re-introduced to a whole new audience who should have a lot of fun. Jungle Beat has some unique features that will allow it to stand apart from the original SNES Donkey Kong series and it is unlikely to disappoint fans of the great ape.

May 19, 2009

ExciteBots: Trick Racing - Wii

Excitebots: Trick Racing is a new title brought to us by the creators of the classic Nintendo game Excite Bike. Excite Bike was one of the first games I owned for my Nintendo and I remember spending countless hours creating my own stunt tracks to put my dirt bikes through. With Excitebots: Trick Racing being released for the Wii, those fond memories came to mind and created quite a bit of nostalgia me. As one might assume from the games name this title is all about racing your Excitebot to the finish line through a variety of racing venues while performing jumps, spins and a variety of other tricks.

Excitebots is a game that is very easy to pick up and play. There are two control options where you can use your Wii Remote horizontally, or use it in tandem with the Wii Wheel. However, the controls work exactly the same for both control options with the “2” button being the gas, the “1” button being the brakes and turning your Wii Remote/Wheel to the left or right to control your Bot. There are a few other manoeuvres to perform which you learn in the brief training mode which will have you racing in no time at all. The Wii Remote on its own was my preferred method of control, so the rest of the descriptions about controls will be from that perspective.

The object of all the racing modes is to collect a target amount of stars by completing mini games and stunts throughout the race. The stunts that your Bot can perform are: Air, Drift, Tree Run, Air Spin, Bot Throw, Jump Combo, Bot Smash, Nice Crash, Rings and Leg Smash. There are also some specific obstacles that you encounter throughout the races with the main obstacles being Red, Yellow, Flip and Elevator Bars.

Red Bars require you to rotate your Wii Remote in a circular motion, performing 10 revolutions before your Bot is launched forward. The more in sync you are with the on screen visual, the more stars you earn and the faster your launch will be. Yellow Bars don’t require much of an effort on your part as your Bot will automatically latch on and start to spin and when your Bot rotates to the bottom you have to thrust your Wii Remote forward to launch your Bot. The Flip Bar is another automatic latching bar where you move your Wii Remote in a circular motion to perform flips, but be careful to finish your stunts before you run out of bar. The last bar is the Elevator Bar where you again latch on automatically, and when you reach the top you have to thrust your Wii Remote forward with the right timing to land your Bot. The bars are usually present when there is an area of the course you may need some added help in getting to. Some bars may be avoided whereas others are mandatory to get through to the next portion of the track.

Another feature your Bot will encounter is the Question Mark Triggers that are found along the tracks. These triggers may open up special items you can use against your opponents or they may trigger some Sport Tricks (field kick, soccer goal, bowling strike, dart throw & baseball hit) which help earn extra stars.

The game has several game modes to play through. Excite Race has the School Cup in which you learn and practice all the controls on an easier playing field. As you move along through the other cups (Bronze Cup, Silver Cup, Gold Cup) the Bots become a little more challenging to control and the race itself becomes more difficult to collect all the stars you need to complete the track. You must complete all the levels in a cup with a passing grade before the next cup is unlocked.

Poker Race is one of the extra racing game modes in which you race around the track forming poker hands in order to accumulate stars. The better the poker hand the more stars you earn. Four randomly selected cards will be allotted to you as you begin the race and as you move along the track you will be able to select from five cards displayed up ahead. Steer your Bot towards the card you wish to add to your hand, and if you wish to discard your card and replace it with another card you must select a card with the d-pad on your Wii Remote. Once you have the hand you want you press the A button to submit your hand and obtain a new set of four cards to build on. The only drawback to Poker Race is that you are limited to only three tracks and not the full compliment available in single player mode. This race is really challenging because you have to concentrate on making the best poker hands possible, as well as to compete with other Bots. If you are too slow, other bots might have already selected the card you were aiming for, ruining the perfect hand.

The Mini-Games mode of the game contains ten Mini-Games drawn from the special activities/tricks you perform during your races including sports tricks, glider flying, bar courses and so on. The Mini-Games act almost like a practice section helping you improve your skills and ultimately perform better during your races. You can even earn stars by completing the Mini-Games. These are a quick and fun alternative if you aren’t in the mood to compete in an actual race.

Excitebots has two multiplayer options available with versus and Nintendo WFC. In the local versus multiplayer mode you race to the finish, while trying to beat out your opponent in total stars earned. The tracks played in single player mode are the exact same tracks that you and your friends will compete for Excitebots supremacy. The other multiplayer option is Nintendo’s WFC (Wi-Fi Connection). Compete with up to five other players either from your friends list, or random players, in either Excite Race or Poker Race. One great thing added in WFC is the option to bet your stars against yourself which can allow you to increase your in-game currency. In addition to the race modes available in WFC play, you can also send replays or challenges to fellow gamers on your friends list. This is a great way of showing off your skills and challenging your friends to beat your best times and star counts.

The purpose of collecting all of these stars is to use them as currency to purchase new colors for your bots, special designs, icons, and statues. Icons are used to represent your profile in Excitebots and range from simple pictures like an axe, duck, football, ghost and smiley faces. Statues of all the Bots available in the game can be purchased for your viewing pleasure as well, but you have to complete ten races with that specific Bot before you can even have that option. The last unlockable feature is special dioramas, but unlocking these dioramas requires quite a bit of skill on your part. To unlock the dioramas you have to complete Super Stunts, and quite a few of them from as low as 20 and upwards to 250.

The gameplay is pretty intense and will definitely keep you racing for quite a while with the large amount of unlockables, and various gameplay modes. Poker Race was an unexpected feature that is a lot fun to play, but with only three tracks available made it a bit boring after a few dozen races or so. Regardless, after everything has been taken into consideration the gameplay is great.

I was impressed with the quality of the graphics in this game and the overall design of the actual Excitebot’s and the individual levels. The Bots were creatively designed in the form of several different animals and insects including a Frog, Beetle, Ladybug, Bat, Turtle, Grasshopper, Mantis, Mouse, Hummingbird, and Centipede. The Bots themselves closely resemble and react like their real live counterparts. Each Bot comes with a few standard colors you can choose from with the majority of the other colors being available to purchase with the stars you accumulate in the different modes and races. As you progress through the game you will unlock more Excitebots along the way along with some special designs for each Bot and even some special armour.

During a race your Bot will interact with the environments with great attention to detail of various body reactions on the different terrains. Little things like smoke coming off your Bot if you overheat, flames exploding out of the back of your Bot when you initiate your turbo, and fragments of your Bot flying apart when you wipe out. A few other things I noticed was the glide trail when you skip over water and the spinning air currents that your crazy mid-air spins create.

The race locations are loosely based on the stereotypical idea of a certain countries terrain. For example, Fiji is a lush tropical paradise alongside the ocean whereas Finland is a snowy wonderland. All the locations are beautifully designed and each track has their own unique features and designs. I especially appreciated the detail in the off-road portions of the tracks. Though there is a barrier which ultimately limits where you can go, you do have some flexibility on how you can reach the finish line. The development team made sure to include unique terrain in these areas such as tree lines and cliffs and this made the whole environment seem bigger and more accessible.

The soundtrack for the game was the most disappointing feature for me personally. If I had to categorize the music I would say it was a mixture of annoying techno/rave music for in-game action and elevator music when browsing the game’s menus. I just didn't enjoy the in-game tunes and they didn't really add anything for me.

The sound effects on the other hand, were well done and include typical engine revving, crash sounds and quite the variety of beeps, whirrs, whistles, buzzes, and bells. All of these extra sounds are associated with collecting items (such as special items) and or completing different feats like landing a jump, recovering from a crash or spinning around a bar to name a few.

While playing through the game you may not realize that the sound effects are not only coming from your television or stereo system but also coming directly from your Wii Remote. These sounds were mixed together seamlessly so that you may only notice if you mute your television, or have the volume quite low.

Excitebots: Trick Racing is a fun and exciting racing game that provides quite an enjoyable experience with some added mini games and crazy stunts thrown into the mix. The only major flaw I found in Excitebots was the poor music selection and some lack of variety in the Poker Race. Overall the Excitebots is a great racing game for gamers of all ages and is a worthy addition to anyone’s Nintendo Wii library of games.

May 16, 2009

Crayola: Colorful Journey - Wii

Author: Kirby Y

Having a 4 ½ year old daughter and a 2 ½ year old son has made me realize the true importance of the Crayola brand. They have a ton of crayons, markers and coloring books that keep my kids busy for long periods of time. This ‘old-school’ activity has been a childhood ritual for many years. Well Crayola has entered the tech generation. Quite sometime ago I reviewed a Crayola game for the DS, and it was pretty cool. Since then Crayola has come to the Wii in the form of the recently released Crayola: Colorful Journey. After taking some time to sit and play with the game with my two kids I would have to say that coloring using the Wii Remote is not that bad of an experience at all, but there are a few bumps on the way.

In Crayola: Colorful Journey you take on the role(s) of Fillup and Violet who venture through Crayola Land. Actually, in simple terms, you are the designer of their world. I will get more into this in a bit. Crayola Land is basically a coloring book that the two kids have been transported into where some evil force is taking the color away from the rest of the world and it is up to you to bring it back. Makes sense as this is a game based on coloring and crayons.

Ok, back to that whole “designer of their world” comment. In Colorful Journey you do not actually control Fillup or Violet, as they move on their own. What you do is draw objects, or color items, in order for our two heroes to continue on their adventure along their preset path. As they make their way through the various levels you are in charge of making sure they get from point A to point B safely. This is where the puzzle elements of the game take over as you must figure out the best way to reach their goal.

The Wii Remote is well suited for this game as it takes on the role of the crayon. You simply point it at the screen, press the A button and draw whatever object you think needs to be drawn. The lines on screen turn into solid objects that Fillup and Violet can walk on. Should you mess up, you can simply erase your line/object by pressing the B button and moving your Wii Remote over what you want to erase. In many ways it is that simple.

As I played Colorful Journey, both by myself and with my kids, a few things became very evident as I played. The first off was the difficulty. I think that on the medium (normal) setting a lot of young children will find themselves struggling more then they would like. Fillup and Violet will keep walking no matter what, and it will take a bit of time, and smarts, to figure out what you have to draw in order for them to keep going. Fail and it can feel quite frustrating. On the easy setting our heroes actually stop in front of the hazards they face allowing those who are playing the time to create the path needed. The latter is of course more geared towards the real young ones in the house, but the regular settings, which are for more advanced, seems to be out of place given the target audience of this game.

The second thing I noted, which is both a blessing and a curse, was the length of each level in the game. They were much longer then I had anticipated. For a game like this I thought the levels would be short and sweet, but alas they were longer then I initially gave the game credit for. On one hand it is pretty cool as the game has a bit of length to it; however on the other hand, and again given the target audience, a lot of kids may not have the patience or the attention span to really appreciate the work that went into each level’s length. In many ways shorter and more levels may have been the way to go here. This was every evident as my 4 ½ year old was really enamored by her initial time with each level, but as time went by she started to ask me when the level was going to be over so she could do another. As for my 2 ½ year old, lets just say he was happy to hang on to the Wii Remote as that is as good as it gets for him.

There is more then just the story for the little ones to play too. This involves what the name Crayola is associated with: crayons and coloring. Colorful Journey encourages repeated play through, and exploration, in the form of unlockables. Given that this game has the Crayola name on it there are different crayons for you to unlock. There are around 64 different colored crayons for you to look for, and once discovered you add it to your collection of crayons. There is also an in-game coloring book for kids to color at their leisure. What is great about this is that they do not have to worry about it being a one shot thing as once they are done coloring and they want to start again, or change it, it is simple as a few button presses to start with a fresh canvas. The only negative here is that there are could have been more things to color, but hey that is just me getting picky here.

There is no doubt that Colorful Journey is colorful, however it is not as bright or vibrant as I would have expected. Given the source material for the game, I thought it would have literally jumped off the screen. Don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of use of color, which is a good thing, but given how bright other games are, especially those geared towards kids, this one just seemed to lack some of oomph in this area. As for the level design, I was pretty impressed with them given the nature of the story. Each level has a unique feel to it and there is some pretty good use of interactivity in terms of what you have to ‘draw’ to move the game along. As for the main characters in the game, they move quite smoothly and are animated pretty well. I did not notice any graphical issues that hampered the enjoyment or playability of this game. Overall Colorful Journey is a kid looking game that manages to put forth some pretty solid, but not over achieving, visuals.

The best way to explain the sound in the game is cute and kid friendly. Given the nature of the game, and those that it is targeted at, Colorful Journey gets it all right in this area. From the boppy music which suits the gameplay, to the platform centric sound effects, all manage to help the game sound as it should. Sure, it won’t take down such classics as Mario Galaxy to the floor, but what it does present is solid enough that you won’t cover your ears. Besides, kids love cute sounds and music, and that is what they get here.

Crayola: Colorful Journey is really suited for the Nintendo Wii, as the control scheme lends itself so well to the platform. With some pretty solid graphics, adequate sound, and some surprising gameplay elements, this game definitely will surprise many; however, the difficulty level may be a little too much for the wee little ones. At the end of the day though, this just gives parents a reason to sit down and enjoy a little videogame fun with their kids. Now excuse me, I have to go as my daughter wants me to come and play Colorful Journey with her again.

May 6, 2009

1 v.s 100 Coming to Xbox Live

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to sit down and play the 1 v.s 100 Beta with several members of the Xbox Community, as well as some media members. 1 v.s 100 is a television game show that is broadcasted in many formats across the world, with the U.S format being hosted by actor and comedian Bob Saget.

Most people probably thought this game was going to be something you downloaded and played against other players whenever you loaded up the game. 1 v.s 100 brings something new to Xbox Live in being regular scheduled LIVE game show on Friday and Saturday evenings where you can play as the One, the Mob or participate as a member of the studio audience. That's right, even if you don't get selected into the main show you can still answer the questions and earn credits to increase your chances of becoming the One or a member of the Mob.

What's a game show without prizes? 1 v.s 100 Live has some excellent prizes available with the One being able to win up to 10,000 Microsoft points which will definitely allow you to download all the arcade games, movies and TV shows on your list to get. Mob members can take home Arcade games if they attain highscores and if they outlast other members of the Mob.

1 v.s 100 is not just limited to the Friday and Saturday night LIVE programming, but also features 1 v.s 100 Extended Play. Extended Play is a lighter version of the game that you can play any night of the week which will help you hone your trivia skills for the big show later in the week. Prizes are also available to be won in Extended Play Sweepstakes by correctly answering questions, and the more questions you answer the more chances you have to win. (Extended Play Sweepstakes are still in the works so details may change, and more information will be released as it is developed).

At the event we participated in the Live version of the game, and got to see Chris Cashman behind the scenes as he worked the show Live from Richmond, Washington. The guy does have some great comedic talents and will definitely keep his audience entertained while the show is on the air. I was a bit negative in thinking that the Live version of the game wouldn't work that well, but seeing it in action changed my mind pretty quickly. One perk for gamers is the ability to be able to phone into the show, or even e-mail some shout outs to friends and have the host read off your e-mails or talk to you live on the phone. 1 v.s 100 is truly an interactive experience that will change Friday and Saturday nights on Xbox Live.

The game is a lot of fun to play, keeps you entertained and will definitely be a hit title in my opinion. If you're still not sure if this is something you will like, then you have to try the beta which starts this Friday, May 8th. To participate in the beta you have to have a Xbox Live Gold account.