Saturday, May 31, 2014

Review: Turtle Tale

Slow an steady wins the race. This is the infamous lesson derived from the classic fable of the turtle and the hare. Tutle Tale is the video game equivalent. It has a turtle protagonist going up against a hare, but the bigger similarity can be found as an emergent property of the gameplay itself. 

Players take the role of a turtle armed with nothing more than a squirt gun as he sets off after the pirate hare that's invaded the island and disturbed his afternoon nap. Anyone with even a little experience with platformers will immediately begin blazing through the early levels with little effort. The landscape is not particularly difficult to traverse, and the small handful of enemies speckled throughout don't put up much of a fight. The water gun fires with a curved trajectory that breaks into multiple particles as it travels, much like a real stream of water. This makes trying to hit certain enemies an interesting challenge, sometimes requiring one to jump and shoot in order for the tail end of the stream to hit, but perhaps the biggest challenge is collecting all 100 pieces of fruit in each level. However, with 4 hit points, checkpoints, and unlimited lives, this is easier done than said. 

The game's 5 distinct areas including a beach, cave, and forest are each divided into 3 parts. After these 15 levels are cleared, we meet the hare face to face in a boss fight reminiscent of the final battle in Super Mario World, with the hare (Bowser) flying around in a machine firing carrots (cannonballs) and throwing various enemies out onto the field. His attack patterns are simple enough to figure out, so the fight boils down to painstakingly waiting for him to fly low enough in order to shoot him.

After putting the hare to bed we see our turtle pal back in his hammock, happily resting. The level select option is now unlocked, and backtracking will be necessary for those who didn't collect all 1500 pieces of fruit on the first run though. Once that's done, the "second quest" becomes available, answering the nagging "is that all?" feeling you're left with after the first run. 

The first half, with its drawn-out, barren landscapes could be run though quickly, like a hare. The second quest is comparatively turtle-like, featuring trickier layouts, a maximum of 2 hit points, and a greater enemy density. This dramatically alters the gameplay, requiring the player to stop frequently to deal with the various malicious foes, from birds and bees to monkeys and cavemen-like creatures. This second quest is the other extreme, but still isn't much of a challenge from a design standpoint. It just becomes more arbitrarily difficult in a tedious way. Run, stop, shoot, run stop, shoot... this repeatedly mashed sequence quickly becomes stale.

With it's crisp, vibrant visuals (which look great in 3D by the way) and ambient music, it looks and sounds great, and the fact that the turtle's face contorts into a serious grimace with ever shot fired is a neat touch, but when it comes to the gameplay itself, it's mostly a matter of going through the motions. With that said, there were some genuinely interesting segments, particularly in the cave levels, where the only way to progress was to deliberately jump into an enemy which would then fling you through the air, providing the force necessary to cover the distance to the next platform, all while trying to keep up with a platform floating down a river of lava. This was one of the most well-designed portions of the game, and felt more rewarding than even the boss fight, which changed little, if at all, the second time around. The other notable fun moments were found in stages with variable levels of lava, which mandated quick, efficiently timed jumps to avoid getting cooked.

While the majority levels in Turtle Tale aren't exactly difficult to get through, this alone isn't enough to write it off (Kirby isn't very challenging, but fun nonetheless). They are laid out in such a way as to reward plodding, methodical, patient play, and carelessly trying to run and gun your way through almost always ends in death. Whether or not this "slow and steady" approach was deliberately designed to be the only way to win or if it's a byproduct of a game that just isn't fleshed out isn't clear. If it was indeed designed to teach patience, then Saturnine Games deserve props for doing something so unexpectedly clever and abstract. It may not be a game to play twice, but I can't say I regret the couple of hours it took to complete, if for no other reason than it making me feel clever for a minute for deciphering the moral of the story, intentional or not. It's a solid foundation but could do with a little more meat on the bones.

Turtle Tale can be downloaded from the 3DS eShop for $2.99

Developer: Saturnine Games

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Humble PC and Android 10 is live

Humble Bundle: PC and Android 10 is live, with some great games on the cheap. A mere dollar will get you Symphony, Draw a Stickman: EPIC, and Galcon Legends. Beating the average will also unlock Skulls of the Shogun: Bon-A-Fide Edition, Metal Slug 3, Fieldrunners 2, Breach & Clear, and whatever games have yet to be revealed. As always, a customizable portion of your purchase goes to support the Electronic Frontier Foundation and Child's Play.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Review: Kirby: Triple Deluxe

Kirby: Triple Deluxe feels like it should have been a launch title for the 3DS. It’s a game in a high-profile Nintendo franchise that doesn’t break the mold too much with few interesting improvements to the formula and a bunch of hardware gimmicks that do nothing but get in the way of the fun. It even has a name - Triple Deluxe - that’s a play on the name of the system it’s on.
Triple Deluxe is a pretty standard Kirby game, and those familiar with the franchise will feel right at home while those new to the party will have little difficulty picking it up. Kirby: Triple Deluxe is an uncomplicated platformer with the central mechanic of copying abilities. Protagonist Kirby can inhale most enemies, and doing so allows Kirby to use their powers if they have any. Inhale a blade knight and Kirby gets a sword and matching green floppy hat (a nod to the Legend of Zelda series) or inhale a flaming enemy to get fire powers. The various copy abilities range from elemental powers (fire, ice, leaf) to weapon-based powers (sword, spear, archer) to more esoteric powers (circus, bell, beetle), and every ability comes with an accompanying move set that changes the way kirby behaves and deals with enemies. The properties of the different powers can also be used to solve puzzles. You might light the fuse to a canon with a flame attack or cut a rope with a sharp power like sword or leaf.
It’s a fun system and constantly switching powers keeps gameplay from becoming stale, but if you’re a Kirby veteran, there isn’t anything new to see here except for a handful of new copy abilities. In fact, the gameplay is a beat-for-beat retread of Kirby’s Return to Dreamland on the Wii, and every power that returns from that game functions near identically to that game. Occasionally, Kirby will be given access to the powerful Hypernova ability, increasing his inhaling suction by an enormous degree. Once again, if you’ve played Return to Dreamland, this will feel very much like the Ultra copy abilities from that game. Hypernova sequences are chances to get a bit of a power trip and do some non-standard puzzle solving, but they’re rarely interesting enough to justify the time they take.
On the whole, the level design in Triple Deluxe leaves a lot to be desired. There’s not even much interesting to say about it. It’s just kind of bland. Interesting ideas - like sections with illusory floors and invisible enemies all revealed in a large mirror - are sadly in the minority.

There are also the hardware gimmicks holding Triple Deluxe back. One new mechanic is the ability to travel between the foreground and background using mini warp stars, but in practice, this means of traversing the environment is little more than a fancy door to a new area. Sometimes this is used in an interesting way, like when Kirby gets a canon hat that lets him attack from one layer to the other, but more often, it’s just an excuse to show off the 3DS’s namesake capability. The emphasis on 3D environments also gets annoying when enemies travel beyond the 2D plane that Kirby traverses, as it can often be hard to tell exactly when the enemy is in that plane. Against regular enemies, this is an annoyance, but when bosses start using attacks that use the third dimension, it can become near impossible to tell exactly where it’s safe to dodge. Tilt controls also rear their ugly head. Most of the time, these could have been substituted for more traditional controls with no loss whatsoever, and in the cases where one must use both the buttons and tilting simultaneously, it feels like a more intuitive workaround could have been reached. There are also collectible keychains, which are utterly pointless in gameplay and exist only to shoehorn in a Streetpass feature for trading.
I’ll lastly touch on story, which, as usual for a Kirby game, takes a backseat. It’s always been true that the quality of story in a Kirby game is inversely proportional to the number of words used to tell it. Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards still stands as the high water mark in this regard, telling its whole story without a single word spoken, with Kirby’s Epic Yarn taking last place with its overly wordy narration trying far too hard to be whimsical. Triple Deluxe stands somewhere in between, but far closer to the Crystal Shards end of the spectrum. The opening cutscene sets things up nicely without a word. Kirby goes to sleep one night only to wake up to find that his house and Castle Dedede have been lifted into the clouds by a magic beanstalk called the Dreamstalk. Kirby rushes to the castle only to find King Dedede, the self-proclaimed monarch of Dream Land, being taken away by an insectoid sorcerer and chases after them all the way through the six worlds that make up the game. The final stage does feature some dialogue, and the final boss fight is a spectacular multi-staged climax to the whole experience, but it does feel strange to have had almost no story context throughout the whole game only to see villains monologuing about their motives at the very end.
All things told, Kirby: Triple Deluxe is hard to get enthusiastic about one way or the other. Its flaws aren’t enough to be deal breakers, but they are enough to drag its positive qualities down to mediocrity. It’s as fun as it ever is to use Kirby’s various powers, and the finale is truly great, but the shoehorned-in hardware gimmicks and uninspired level design keep the game from being anything more than something to remind us all that Kirby exists until his next big game. If you’re a Kirby fan, Triple Deluxe will scratch that itch, but it won’t really satisfy.

Find Kirby: Triple Deluxe on ebay  

Release Date: 5/2/2014
Developer: HAL Laboratory
Publisher: Nintendo

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Pokemon Ruby/Sapphire 3DS remakes announced!

It's finally happening. The Hoenn region will come to life in glorious 3D come this November as Omega Ruby and Alpha Sapphire. We all knew it was coming, but for it to be just a year after the release of X/Y is something I don't think anyone expected. It's safe to assume they were working on both simultaneously, which would explain the subtle hints found throughout the sixth generation of games. With Smash Bros. also on the horizon, it's certainly a fine time to own a 3DS.