July 17, 2009

Legendary Starfy - Nintendo DS

Author: Trevor H of Game-Boyz.com

The Legendary Starfy represents the fifth instalment in the Legendary Starfy video game series; however this is the first time that we have seen Starfy in North America as Nintendo has been reluctant to bring the game overseas up to this point. The wait is over though and now North American gamers can hop on board the Starfy bandwagon. But hold on just a second, is the game worth all the hype and will North American gamers embrace the franchise? Granted Starfy is nothing incredibly original but I can certainly see why the game has been a success in other parts of the world. Following the same formula as so many of DS platformers, The Legendary Starfy is an easy, colourful game aimed at gamers of all ages.

As far as the gameplay is concerned, Starfy plays out very much like the Kirby games that so many Nintendo faithful have played and it is clearly inspired by the franchise. While Starfy and Kirby may be vastly different in terms of storylines they both follow the same premise; that being a mindless, heartfelt, addictive and simplistic platform game aimed for players of all ages. While Kirby may be a little more difficult, Starfy does offer a ton of variety and a single player experience which will take you anywhere from 10 to 15-hours to complete depending on your level of experience. But before I get ahead of myself, let me give you a bit of background in terms of the storyline and Starfy himself.

Starfy is the prince of Pufftop which is a kingdom located high in the clouds. Whenever Starfy is not going on adventures he lives in a fluffy castle with his little sister Starly and his best friend Moe. One day, while Starfy is having a nap, a mysterious visitor, a freaky looking bunny in a space suit, crashes through the ceiling. Suddenly, three shadowy goons follow as they crash through a castle wall and they start dragging the bunny away. Starfy uses his Star Spin to fight off the goons but not before the bunny escapes with the shadowy trio in hot pursuit. Starfy, alongside his best friend Moe, team up to find the little fella but not before they both slip off a cloud and fall far down to the ocean below.

All in all, the story is decent and there are certainly some heartfelt moments. I was only moments into the game when I heard my daughter saying, “ahhhhhhhhhh, he is so cute”. I know I probably made some of you roll your eyes but you get the picture. In any event, the story never really grabbed me and was merely a small backdrop to real enjoyment of the game which was navigating Starfy through the many levels in the underwater environments.

It seems every platformer needs to have a hook or a gimmick. While Kirby's is his ability to copy his enemies, Starfy's is his seamless ability to swim and take out enemies in underwater elements. Doing so is enjoyable and easy. It is this element alone that will keep gamers coming back to the franchise. Controls are straightforward and every movement underwater is very responsive. Starfy can quickly turn on a dime and he uses his star spin attack to smash various enemies out of the way. He can also burst through walls and other breakable blocks, but be careful not to use too many spin attacks as our pudgy friend gets easily gassed. The game features a slick progression system. In the beginning Starfy does not have all his abilities available to him; instead the game slowly introduces you to new abilities as Moe helps Starfy remember all his moves. The progression can seem a tad slow, and skipping through all the dialogue can be a pain, but I must say once you have all your abilities the game does become quite enjoyable.

The game’s main storyline features eight worlds and two bonus worlds, one of which includes Starfy’s sister, Starly. Each world contains a different theme from glaciers to a lush tropical lagoon. Within each world there are four main levels with three secret levels that can be unlocked by finding a special door and completing a challenge. The challenges are also varied and you seemingly never do the same challenge twice as they contain a great deal of variety. In addition to your typical disposing of enemies and boss fights, Starfy will also have to partake in swimming races and scavenger hunts. Also, the game features plenty of in-level secrets and collectibles making for an entertaining experience with plenty of enjoyable aspects.

Another unique aspect of the game is once you catch up to the freaky bunny Bunston, you will have the opportunity to transform into one of four animal forms. In the game Bunston uses his powers to transform Starfy into a powerful creature. Whether it be a fire breathing dinosaur or a super swimming seal, this aspect of the game adds a slick element which gives the game a tremendous amount of enjoyment and replay value.

In terms of any issues or concerns, Starfy does have a few. First, the game is not a challenge for experienced gamers. My 6-year old daughter loved the game and was a good test for her novice gaming skills. For me however, the game was not so much a challenge. Boss fights were easy and Starfy is never too low on health as power-up pearls are everywhere. It’s nice to be able to whip through the levels but a bit more of a challenge would have been great. Secondly, the endless dialogue and interactions with characters is over-the-top and unnecessary. Far too often I found myself skipping through endless amounts of text just to get to the action. It slows the game down and takes away from the gameplay to say the least.

Visually, Starfy is a good looking game. Following in the same footsteps as the Kirby and Mario franchises, Starfy is bright and colourful featuring large vibrant level and funky looking enemies. It presents as a polished looking game which seemingly maxes out the hardware capabilities of the DS. Our hero, Starfy, is a pudgy star shaped character and there really isn’t much in the way of detail to him. That being said, the simplicity of his look works and gamers will inevitably fall in love with the character. Enemies also look very unique featuring a good amount of variety as you face underwater creatures of all different shapes and sizes. The game can certainly look busy; however for the most part Starfy pulls off the look with ease. I should also mention that the game features a nice blend of cut-scene art work, and the storytelling is wonderfully presented albeit there can be a bit too much text now and then. All in all, Starfy scores high marks in the visuals department.

Unlike the games visuals, I was not all that impressed with the game’s audio package. For starters, the musical soundtrack is forgettable and sounds so much like all the other games in the genre that are currently on the market. Don’t get me wrong, it is not annoying or distracting but it is merely forgettable and repetitive. Other in-game sound effects are typical of similar games but the do work and are perfectly in sync with the game’s action; however again they are just nothing incredibly innovative or original. My best advice for those playing The Legendary Starfy is to either keep your expectations to a minimum or just listen to some of your favourite tunes on your MP3 player as the audio has no bearing on the gameplay. It may sound like I am being a tad critical for a game that does not sound all that bad but at the end of the day the same old audio package heard time and time again is starting to wear a little thin on this DS gamer.

Overall, The Legendary Starfy for the DS is a pleasant game featuring enjoyable platform gameplay and a lovable ‘Kirby-like’ character. The game’s levels feature a great deal of variety and the solid looking underwater environments offer up plenty of eye-candy. While Starfy may not offer up much of challenge for experienced gamers, younger and novice DS gamers alike will undoubtedly enjoy this first taste of the Starfy franchise.

Disney's Up - Xbox 360

Up is another movie gem from the animation studios of Pixar. The recently released game from THQ is loosely based off of the motion picture about elderly Carl Fredricksen who departs on a great adventure to South America by the unconventional method of tying balloons to his home and flying away. Unexpectedly, Junior Wilderness Explorer Russell finds himself along for the ride after having visited Carl in order to offer his assistance to him in any way that he could. In the video game you continue on the adventure with Carl and Russell as they trek across South America and the Amazon while avoiding being snared by the evil Charles Muntz. The transition from the big screen to the various gaming platforms was not a big stretch for this title. I have always been a fan of Pixar movies, and having a son who watches almost nothing but Pixar I was eager to take this title for a spin.

Carl and Russell are the two characters that you use in this co-op adventure game. You use the unique abilities of each character to advance through the levels. The game can easily be played in single player, switching between each of the characters, or you can play the game with a friend in two-player co-op. The latter is where I found the game plays the best. This adventure game is very similar to other movie tie-in games where you must collect objects throughout the game, and in this case you collect Merit Badges and Quest Cards. Merit Badges and Quest Cards work in tandem. You collect Merit Badges until you reach a certain number which then causes a Quest Card to unlock. On the Quest Card you will have a certain criteria of things you have to do to unlock bonus content and hidden materials within the game. The bonus content is mostly the cinematics that you watch throughout the game. This is great to have if you or some of your children want to re-watch the story. There is also some concept art that you can unlock for your viewing pleasure too.

Throughout the game you will have to use the abilities of Carl and Russell to overcome obstacles, puzzles, and to defeat any baddies that you may come across. There are quite a few specific moves for each of the characters. Russell can use his pocket knife to cut ropes and use his own rope to pull Carl up to those out of reach places. Carl can use his cane to climb up to those hard to reach places. The weapons of choice for the duo are Carl’s cane and Russell’s back pack which can take care of any pesky enemies in a pinch.

Each character has a specific set of special abilities. Carl's hearing aid can be used to scare off enemies and he can also make balloon animals to distract an enemy and stun dogs. Russell’s special abilities include the use of his bugle which can be used to scare away bats and dogs and he also has a water bottle which can be used to heal Carl and himself. Finally, both characters can taunt an enemy to distract them from attacking their partner.

The controls work well in Up for the Xbox 360. I found that there was only one major issue and this occurred during boss battles. They just didn't seem as refined as they should be when fighting a boss. Take the first boss battle for example, which is battle against a gigantic snake. During this fight Russell has to lower his rope from a log and Carl grabs on to use himself as bait to get the snake to lunge. At the last moment you have to move Carl out of the way forcing the snake to bite down on electric eels. The controls here did not work that well, and more often than not I ended up snake food and really frustrated. It took me about 15 times to complete this boss battle and it was not due to a lack of skill, but the controls themselves. Boss battles on other occasions also end up being a victim of poor play due to this lack of responsiveness.

If you tire of the single or co-op story experience then you should head over to multiplayer games which allow up to four gamers to play on the same screen at once. You will be challenged to shoot it out in a dog fight in your biplane and be the first player to defeat five other dog fighters, pop 100 balloons, or be the part of the first team to take out the engines & rudders on the opposing team’s dirigible! Being an aerial dog fighting fan I really enjoyed the simplified experience of just shooting and not worrying too much about instruments or strategy. The multiplayer mode in Up is good old fashioned fun.

The graphics in Up on the Xbox 360 are very similar in style to those of the movie. I found that there were only a few differences between the virtual and theatrical versions, which of course can be expected given the transition from the big screen to the home console. The cinematic scenes show no differences from movie and they were enjoyable and pleasant to watch. The attention to detail in the game's environments is fantastic as each level is bright, colourful and full of life. Technically speaking there were a few issues with collision detection as you can unexpectedly get stuck in a spot once in a while and the animation slows down if you try to do any action that seemed out of the ordinary. Apart from these minor setbacks the game runs pretty smoothly.

The sounds and noises throughout Up are bring the game alive with such things as monkeys chattering, birds chirping and faint sounds of butterflies flapping to name a few. To compliment the sound effects there is instrumental music that plays throughout the background which creates a great atmosphere. The voice actors, who are from the actual movie, do a great job of expressing the emotions and conveying what the characters were feeling throughout the game. Along with the regular dialogue between Carl and Russell is a built in help feaure via voice work. This is for inexperienced players where the two main characters will give hints to what action you should take to complete a puzzle or how to move on to the next area of the game. The only complaint I could really make about the voices was that they seemed to repeat at time and causing them to become slightly annoying.

Overall Up for the Xbox 360 is a decent experience with the only drawback being that it is so much like other movie tie-in games, with no innovation or new features to compliment the game. That being said the co-op play and multiplayer action is one of the best features of this game and adds more value to the title. I think that this game will be a hit with families who love to game.