Review: Klonoa (Wii, 2009)


Klonoa, an enhanced port of an old Playstation game, is a bit of a let down. Everything is in place for it to be a sublime experience. The graphics are really good for the generation(s) behind Wii, it’s a 2.5D platformer (I’m a huge fan), it controls well, the music isn’t bad.

It’s also really short. Like, really short. Download-only title off the eShop short. Also, for a good 90% of the game, it’s very easy.

I’m a little sad to say that I was expecting to really enjoy the experience, to be in a state of nerdy bliss after having fond memories of the original for a decade plus. I rented it when I was about 12 years old, smack dab in the middle of my more active gaming years. It surprised me. It was simple, but lovely. A fun 2D romp when we were only offered usually bland, wide open spaces and usually bad camera angles (something that we put up with quite well, if only because we had to). It felt obscure, like it shouldn’t have been released in America, and that alone gave it an air of mystique.

At the time, Super Mario 64 was groundbreaking in many ways, and it changed things heavily for quite awhile, but none more pointedly than the platformer genre. Moving left and right on one axis no longer seemed good enough. It felt old hat and outdated.

As implied earlier, much of those 3D games — ones I still cherish to this very day — were technically poorly executed experiences in comparison. Klonoa and its ilk were refreshing by default, because no matter how little you could explore the surrounding environments — and they were beautiful at the time, of course — you never had to contend with a pesky camera and obtuse control configurations. It was left, right, up, and down. The kind of stuff developers had down pat after years and years of experience. The polygonal environments surrounding your character were simply an amusing extra.

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Klonoa’s 2D paths wind around trees, mountain sides, interiors of caverns. The camera moves along gently, sometimes employing cool angles to show off the path around and ahead. The show off-y camera might have been amazing back then — and as someone who was there, I can tell you it most likely was — but it’s fairly pedestrian now.

One thing Klonoa still does, of course, is flawlessly present a game that is two dimensional in a 3D world, even if it no longer feels as interesting as it once did.

The titular character is one that is hard to describe. He comes from the mascot platformer crazed 90s, and it shows. He’s a bunny-like thing, I guess, that wakes up one day and is destined to save the world. Very standard stuff. Hewpoe is your sidekick, a little floating blue ball of happiness (…), instructing you to save the world from some dude named Ghadius, who is of course the keeper of nightmares or something. Everyone rejects him and his darn nightmares, and he’s mad, blah blah, let’s save the world, blah blah.

In game, apart from typical platformer tropes, Klonoa can use Hewpoe as a “wind bullet.” This lets him inject a giant blast of wind into cutesy, seemingly harmless animals (“enemies”), inflating them into giant animal balls. These giant, always rotating animal balls can be thrown at other innocent animals for an explosion of cute, or used to simply jump higher (of course). It’s a simple idea, but hey, it’s fun.

There are light puzzles here and there, mostly involving keys (okay, the door can open now!). Some of the later levels get particularly interesting, as paths wind around other paths. On occasion, you’ll catch a glimpse at another part of the level you won’t be able to get to until later, or one you’ve already been to before. It’s simple but effective enough.

Boss battles are, of course, insultingly easy. Nothing worse than Mario, though. All of them revolve around one simple idea: throwing inflated animals at the boss. Four or so hits later, the end! Cue dramatic cut scene!

Speaking of cut scenes, oh my gawd they are frequent and SUPER boring. This is made worse by the fact that the Balloon font scrolls by at the slowest possible rate, and there is no way to speed it up. It practically screams “THIS IS FOR YOUNGER PLAYERS,” which makes me feel just great since I’m almost 30. The only way to remedy this is by unfortunately skipping entire portions of a cut scene. If I were not reviewing the game, I’d have skipped them every chance I had, not one care in the world.

While it’s really boring, typical stuff, boy does it ever get dramatic. Spoiler alert until the next bold text that says “SPOILER ALERT OVER!!!!!” Klonoa’s grandfather, one that is line with every other grandfather in every other game released in the 90s (slow, earnest, wise, stupid, zzz), dies halfway through. Ghadius’s accomplice Joker kills him in a hilariously over the top explosion, because, uh, these darn kids are getting in the way (or whatever). Klonoa reacts to the death by screaming bloody murder as the camera pans upwards towards the sky. Fade out. Fade in, Klonoa has tears in his eyes as he mutters something about revenge. Huh.

Nothing about this is original or, uh, good — but it carries slight emotional heft I can’t ignore. It has nothing to do with the plot itself (which is the epitome of cliche) and everything to do with how dramatically it is presented. This is a huge stretch, but it reminded me of that scene in Final Fantasy VII. Nowhere near the level of that game’s intensity — I was happy about seeing Grandfart exploding, not so much Aeris being stabbed — but you can tell that the developers were working overtime to garner some emotion out of its players, particularly its older ones.

From this point onwards, Klonoa’s story takes a fairly dark turn, which when juxtaposed alongside the simplistic gameplay makes for an interesting experience. Again, nothing at all original happens, whatsoever. Klonoa seeks revenge after Grandfart dies, of course, and gets all the way to the stars (well, yeah) at one point near the end of the game. He does so in a fairly typical, mid 90s video game way — “To the Temple of the Sun!” one character shouts, if I recall correctly — but it feels organic enough and slightly more interesting now because of how dramatically it’s presented. It feels epic, even if only a little bit.

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Which brings us to the most downbeat ending to a mascot platformer of all fucking time: Klonoa is told, after saving this land and all that crap (but not having, I should note, magically resurrected his dead Grandpoop), that everything is a lie. A variation on the lazy “it was all a dream,” the whole world the game took place in is said to be not real in the most dramatic way possible, right before Klonoa gets sucked out of the sky forever, desperately clinging onto his BFF Hewpoe before letting go. (“Titanic.”) And then the credits roll as somber music plays. I sat there stunned. It ended. Hewpoe (who turns out to be a Teletubbie, by the way!!!!) lied to him the whole time about being total BFFs forever and ever. How dare he!!!



Okay. Very generic stuff, right? Yet, it’s somehow memorable. Everything about it lingers in my memory, even if it’s TOTALLY about a fluffy bunny thing with giant ears being told he has to wake up or whatever. SPOILER ALERT OVER!!!!

After the end game, assuming you’ve easily gathered all collectables (every level has six or so pieces to collect), you are rewarded with an extra level, which seems challenging enough, and “reverse mode,” which is super quaint until you notice little portals into bonus rooms of hell. I have yet to complete a single one, and I don’t imagine I’ll being doing it any time soon. They are NES hard. I’m not the most precise Klonoa player on the planet, I know — a simple search on Youtube proves as much. For some, these may be not so bad, but they are, for me, about 100 times more difficult than anything else in the main game.

I feel like I’ve dumped more on Klonoa than praised it, which unfortunately accurately reflects how I feel in the end, but I had a pleasant enough experience the whole way through. It never bored me outside of the early cut scenes, and it was always lovely to look at and easy to get into.

For those in love with old school 2D platformers, you should probably pick it up. The extra hard stuff after the game is over will give those who need to be frustrated a lovely bouquet of frustration. Otherwise, it’s pleasant fluff, short as hell, wrapped in an intriguingly emotional shell.

+ Game is decent fun.
+ Graphics are incredible for the Wii, especially in 2009. Looks great on HD sets.
+ The story finally gets slightly interesting, if only in presentation.
+ Controls perfectly.

– Five hours or less.
– No challenge for most of the main game.
– T e x t   s c r o l l s   b y   t o o   s l o w .
– Level design for most of the game is slightly unmemorable.


I’ll be playing through the two Klonoa games released for the GBA next. I enjoyed them a lot more than this one, at least back then. I’m excited.


Whatever Review: Mighty Switch Force

Hi. It’s been awhile. Sorry.

A deluge of games hit my face since the beginning of November. Too many, almost. New Zelda, new Mario, new Mario Kart, 10 FREE GBA Ambassador games, Pushmo, VVVVVV, Twinbee (a bit late to this one), etc etc. I have been lost in gaming nerd Nirvana or whatever for almost two months. Adrift in Zelda’s intricate albeit linear environments, mostly.

But, I am back. Happy 2012, you two readers you.

Mighty Switch Force is made by Wayforward, a dev that Ninty nerds love love love. I have never hopped aboard this bandwagon — I found previous Mighty Flip Champs to be a fun albeit mild take on puzzle platforming, while their other titles were not played by me. Mighty Switch Force inspires the same feelings I got from Flip Champs: I’m having some fun, everything looks pretty nice, but… “eh.”

The biggest drawback to Mighty Switch Force is its brevity. Even at rather cheap price of $6 (in comparison to most eShop games), it’s just too short. 16 levels short to be exact, most of them over within 5 minutes. The gameplay resembles a miniature collectathon, with your cop character nabbing six escaped prison inmates and then finding the exit. The “Switch” part of the title refers to blocks that you have to basically turn off and on to get through the levels.

There are charming sprites everywhere, decently well drawn but in a very specific style that doesn’t totally click with me. The 3D adds a fun sense of depth that is entirely inessential to gameplay, with characters popping out of the screen and various layers of background pushed to the back, ala 3D Classics: Kirby’s Adventure (among others). I really enjoy it, although I can understand why it is considered pointless by others.

For the hour or so it takes to get through the game, it is an enjoyable time. I even initially recommended it to others. But I’ve lived with the game for a couple of weeks, and it doesn’t thrill me anymore after completing everything. You have the option of trying to beat levels as quickly as possible (“par times”), so for score attack junkies it could be worthwhile.

+ Nice, detailed sprite work, even if I’m not a huge fan of the style.
+ Level design is consistently engaging.
+ Lack of hand holding is refreshing.
+ Decent fun.

– Short.
– Replay value isn’t quite high.
– Sound effects (ie voice overs) can be annoying.
– Puzzles all revolve around the same two or three concepts.

*** / *****

Review: Bonk’s Adventure

Bonk’s Adventure is about a caveman with rabies.

Every time he dies, he foams intensely at the mouth.

It comes from a time when mascot platformers were required to make both companies and customers happy, and also from a time when games were rather difficult. Things change; the genre of choice is now FPS for everyone (but me, although I am interested), and games get easier by the day.

Playing this title is a welcome return to the days of my youth. Hours spent in front the television on lazy, sunlit Saturday mornings, usually a Genesis or NES controller in hand. Moments of awe whenever I found a new secret area. The inexplicable feeling of genuine happiness upon stumbling on a new secret in an old school platformer still resides in my bones, for I felt it many a time in Bonk’s short Adventure.

Gameplay involves slowly running left to right, and sometimes right to left. Instead of usual platform tropes, you use your only move — head-butting, naturally… you are a caveman (with rabies) — to one up the plethora of enemies you will encounter. Level design starts off feeling uncreative, but then takes interesting left turns; at what appears to be a dead end, you must head-butt the head of a giant dinosaur to have him eat you. The next level takes place inside said dinosaur’s body. Neat!

Whenever you “bonk” any enemy with your head, the bad guy will fly into the air and usually dispense something along the lines of uncooked meat or fruit. Apparently, those two are somehow interchangeable.

Digesting two pieces of uncooked meat makes Bonk go from sickly, yours truly pale to one really red dude. I think this might have something to do with the dangers of consuming E. Coli. This transformation also involves him becoming a stark raving lunatic (mad cow disease?) and grants him the ability to destroy everything in his path, albeit for only a moment. Or, more and less accurately, he hit a block with his head and got the invincible star power up. Er, never mind.

The entire experience is actually less reminiscent of Mario and more of Alex Kidd or Decap Attack, early Sega platformers that have a very specific feel and tone. Not the classic experience associated with Ninty developed bliss, but maybe something more “goofy.” It‘s a game that doesn’t have the balls to take itself seriously, nor should it ever have to.

As previously hinted, the difficulty of this simple platformer is hilariously high. The enemies are everywhere. Some require head-butting from below and some from above, and you will die a lot. A thankful concession on part of the developers is of unlimited continues. No matter how many times you die, and no matter how many Game Overs you accumulate during its short playtime, you will still beat the game if you persevere and have enough patience for an afternoon.

Above all else, though, it still is a rather simple platformer among many from its era.

This is an experience that will ultimately be more compelling to those who have already played it or similar platformers in the early ‘90s. If you have, and want your nostalgic bone creepily tickled, this is a pretty great way to do it.

+ Its inherent challenge and/or frustration at least makes it more interesting than the million cookie cutter platformers littered across 8 and 16 bit’s history
+ Graphics are pleasing and decent enough
+ Some interesting level design
+ Great fun for nostalgic junkies

– The controls are not perfect
– It’s really short
– Sometimes too many enemies to really handle
– A little too simple
– Standard non-”story”


Review: Cruis’n USA

Sometimes yours truly will sporadically take notes as he plays a video game set for review.

Here are some notes from yesterday while trekking through Cruis’n USA, an arcade racer developed by Midway in 1996:

“The general grime seen and felt while playing suggests the gulf between 1996 and the late 80s was not as big as it should have been.”

In regards to the music: “Instant thoughts of stripper clubs in the early 90s. My brain imagines big haired women in their ugly outfits doing really awful dances, while a 300 lb dude in the back grunts and moans into his microphone to a backing band. Lyrics include: ‘Yeah, woah-oh. Woah, woah, woah, woah-oh-oh, oh.’”

A thrilling moment: “I am driving in the ‘Redwood Forest,’ and I literally just struck down a giant, impossibly huge redwood tree by grazing it with the side of my automobile.”

A startling discovery: “‘Indiana’ is the same exact track as ‘Iowa.’ Hmm.”

Noting the graphics: “I think I just saw a waterfall that did not move.”

And, finally: “I just ran into the White House.”

As described earlier, it is an arcade racer, somehow published by Nintendo for their 64-bit console. It has “cool” cars, and they all like, move down roads, man. Little “obstacles” like barrels and very tiny signs fly into the air upon impact of your car, to no detriment of either your vehicle or the environment around them. The barrels simply vanish, probably en route to mid 90s polygon heaven.

At every finish line, a bunch of really ugly .gif-like people doing a three frames a second animation await you, all standing in harm’s way because you did like, an awesome job, man. Your car instantly stops the moment you’re about to hit them as if someone pressed pause on your RCA VCR. This is when a busty woman from a bad hair metal video thrusts her breasts into a trophy I’m assuming is now yours.

The main single player “campaign” is of a 20+ minute ride through the United States. Roads seem to grow more windy and treacherous from the west to the east as you go along, as if road planners or whatever suddenly got more ambitious and/or evil. Sometimes while driving through its various locales a voiceover girl will intone something casually descriptive, like: “Check it out, San Francisco,” or “So this is the Grand Canyon.”

“Wow, Mount Rushmore.”

The white hot action features a little radar on the right side of the screen, showing oncoming cars in gray and opponents in red. It is so tiny that it is completely pointless, as other cars will fly into yours way faster than you would ever expect. Everyone drives in every lane in this game — the left one, the right one, backwards, forwards. If this were real life, we would all be dead ten seconds after starting up our cars.

Or perhaps not! Driving head-on into oncoming traffic at 90 MPH simply makes your car do a cute, ballerina-like spin on the road before robotically re-aligning itself into a perfectly straight line. Sometimes your car does whip-like flips, too, and throughout all of this your 1994 Pontiac Grand Prix looks just fabulous with nary a dent or scratch in sight. I guess if this were real life, it would like, totally rule, man.

There is a (local, duh) leader board called “Hot Times,” where you put your three lettered initials on a license plate and watch it cheesily twirl up a wall before being nailed in with what sounds like a powered screwdriver. Instead of initials, I tend to prefer things like “ASS.”

For challenge, there is an always-there timer, counting down the seconds to your inevitable doom should you not reach the next checkpoint. This is a feature in nearly all arcade racers, at least the ones from the 90s and (especially) the 80s. Unfortunately, or fortunately for five year olds, you will most likely never feel burdened by this, thus no challenge. The game provides copious amounts of time for you to drive down bland roads.

The actual gameplay is reminiscent of many a time had in the corner of the local movie theater after spending $11 to see something probably mediocre — a dusty Midway developed arcade racer beckons you, usually with “Rush” somewhere in the title. It plays the same but now in your home, and with all the time in the world becomes something rather tedious very quickly. It also plays exactly like Rad Racer from the NES, which at least had the audacity to feature good music.

The worst part about all of this, though, is that it can actually be moderately entertaining. It may be the video game equivalent of a bad 80s music video, but a part of me really enjoys that. It takes bland but serviceable gameplay and outfits it in a smelly early 90s exterior. Everything is hilarious, everything. The way your car moves. The awful gif people standing everywhere. The barren roads. How “Indiana” and “Iowa” are the same exact tracks. The music. The muffled sound effects. The sexist nature of how every female is either bikini clad or had been through obvious plastic surgery. It is all wonderful in its awfulness, like a good bad movie. And although this may not quite be the “Troll 2” of video games, it comes awfully close. Notice the word “awful” in the past two sentences.

+ Uhm, it is very funny.

– The gameplay.
– The soundtrack. Jet Moto but a lot worse.
– The tracks either look all the same or are the same.
– The presentation.
– The sound effects.
– Everything.


Review: Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards

It was more than a disappointing decade ago when Nintendo unleashed Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards onto the masses — a game most have since described as “mediocre,” “not Kirby’s best,” “too easy,” and “only meant for kids.” How delightful! These same thoughts echoed through my mind while playing the Virtual Console re-release in early 2008. It just felt dull — Kirby appeared to move about two miles an hour in what seemed like overly simplistic environments. I made it halfway through world two and promptly called it quits before nearly falling into a deep coma.

Alas, slow ass Kirby and I were destined to meet again. The hilariously sad nature of my checking account has resigned me to actually playing through the dozens of old games I already own via the oft neglected Virtual Console but had never finished. Which accounts for probably, oh, 90% of them.

Thanks to the recent Return to Dreamland haunting my brain with glowing praise from many a Nintendo fanboy, I found the second (or third or fourth) best Kirby related thing I could play: this here goofy title. After pushing myself through the first two worlds and reaching the third (only three years later), SURPRISE SURPRISE! I realized I was having a pretty great time!

One caveat: you must accept the easygoing, carefree nature of the Kirby world before playing. Kirby is not just meant for eight year olds — it is also for those who want to have simple, lighthearted fun. Who doesn’t want that? Except like, a lot of people apparently?

Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards is a 2.5-D platformer, and that is where most of my enjoyment comes from. The 1/2 is a totally superficial bullet point regarding its presentation, but there is some odd magic derived from this. (Basically, your character moves on a 2D plane — left and right — in environments that are actually three dimensional.) These types of games are rarely made anymore; most developers creating a platformer now settle for a more “classic,” flat look established in the 16-bit era. This is of course fine, but the fake 3D in these forgotten titles is a rather cool distraction. (Game series like Pandemonium and Klonoa fit the bill quite nice.)

As with most Kirby platformers, the pink puff of happiness has the ability to suck up different enemies and mimic their powers. A swiftly moving ball of flames will give you “fire,” a tiny volcano will give you “rock,” etc. These powers are humorous and rather simple by themselves, but unique to this entry is the option of combining two powers — be it the same two ones, like fire and fire (which just amplifies the original power up), or two different ones, like bomb and fire (which transforms Kirby into instant, screen-destroying fireworks).

Every level also contains about three Crystal Shards, thus the title. Of course, there is a general Nintendo-like non-story about collecting all of these to rid Dreamland of evil (which is manifested in black orbs with a creepy eye in the middle), but this will easily be ignored and merely looked upon as The Actual Challenge For Those Who Want It, a transparent feature experienced in all modern Nintendo platformers. The challenge is not finding them per se, although locating some in the later worlds will be difficult — it is more about experimenting with different combinations of powers to obtain the titular objects.

The amount of levels you get is not that many (three/four in each of the six worlds), but collecting all 100 Crystal Shards will take at least a good seven or so hours. The more you play, the more enjoyable the game gets as well; the level design gets tighter and the graphics become kind of pretty — if only in that hilarious N64/PSX way I will always be nostalgic about.

The Crystal Shards is also an anomaly in a couple of ways; while the recent landslide of Nintendo developed 2D platformers has rendered its specialness quite moot, it was absolutely rare in the N64 era — an honest to goodness 2D platformer devoid of those three dimensions and all the awkwardness they used to entail (sluggish camera controls, mostly). The simple nature of this game turned off many a nerd back then, as it almost seemed reductive to just be moving — slowly, too — left, right, and nowhere else.

Another noteworthy thing for useless fact junkies like me, is that it is also one of the only (to my knowledge) 2.5-D platformers Nintendo has ever made.

It is an easy game in hindsight. Once you get past the sections that kill you a few times and grab that shard, there is little reason to go back again (other than for some simple fun, something not many people seem to enjoy). But, hey, I had a lot of fun despite its few shortcomings. It was worth the $10 I spent three and a half years ago, and it is worth your $10, too.

+ A very charming game
+ Simple, relaxing fun
+ New combinations of power ups are always gratifying
+ Great graphics for the N64

– A little too simple and easy
– The music is mostly forgettable late 90s “techno”
– Kirby moves really slow, which makes it hard to get into at first (hint — press the d-pad twice in the direction you want to go)

Percentage of game complete: 100%, about 6 or so hours


Review: Tetris Axis

Hi, Tetris! Welcome to my 3DS! I knew you would visit sooner or later!!

Simple stuff out of the way: Tetris Axis is not a terrible game, nor is it an amazing one. It does the classic game design pretty well, and for my $30 has more value than that Tetris Party Live I know you have been nervously eyeing in the eShop for a paltry five bucks.

In fact, I have enjoyed Axis slightly more than Tetris DS. Nerds will know DS as that highly acclaimed iteration Nintendo developed in 2006 because they are probably still playing it. All of the extra “party” modes in Tetris Axis do a great job of simply being entertaining, something I cannot say for more than half of DS’s package. There is nary a dud in the bunch, even if some are more compelling than others.

And to point out the obvious: sure, this new one might not have Mario and Zelda running around in the background like that fan favorite, but something tells me that you are not paying attention to what’s going on behind the tetrominos at level 15 and beyond.

The main thing Axis wants you to know right on the package — and in the scant advertising Nintendo has allowed — is that there are AR MODES! AUGMENTED REALITY TETRIS! YOU CAN PLAY TETRIS ON YOUR KITCHEN TABLE! The downside of this, however, is that it is not particularly fun. Oops!

The 3DS cameras are still shitty, and they still require a bunch of light my seemingly impenetrable cave of a house will never have, so just setting up for a specific Tetris-friendly environment is enough to drive one mad. Once you finally get Marathon mode going, it ends: the pieces are bigger than usual in a smaller field, the requirement to reach the end easily done within a minute or two. Full disclosure — I could not complete a round of AR Tower Climber, that one mode where a stick figure runs up a tower magically growing out of your table or someone’s face via a path of tetrominos you helpfully throw at him. The game could not see my giant AR card even with thirty lamps scattered around it. But, hey! At least it was not as frustrating as my time online!

Which REALLY clumsily brings me to the game’s most glaring flaw: the random online matches are broken. A new item is being trolled about to make matches unfair and pointless — I will call it the “screen switcher.” With a tap of the stylus, one who hates the concept of happiness and probably kitties can switch your beautiful looking blank space to theirs, usually an intentional mess of L pieces stacked on top each other that will instantly end your game and lower your score. To see hundreds of points from your online nerd score go down due to this is absolutely frustrating and wrong, and there is nothing you or I can do about it because Nintendo does not believe in modern technology (patching, online, HD, decent online infrastructure, teleportation).

One of the main reasons anyone gets Tetris for more than $5 in these iPhone days is the online component, and to have it be nearly unplayable is just not an ideal situation. Especially when one considers Tetris Battle — a free game on Facebook that does battles between random people way better with its tiered progression and not totally obnoxious items.

Aside from that, I have already put in around 20 hours without even noticing, so either that is something worth noting or simply reflects the general nature of Tetris: an instant time suck regardless of what version you are playing. However, I have enjoyed my time with Axis, so, I do not know. So confused! Buy it/do not buy it!

+ It’s Tetris!!
+ Most of the extra modes are fun and entertaining
+ Your Mii dances really hilariously on the bottom screen!
+ Local multiplayer is a good time, of course

– Online isn’t kewl
– AR modes are boring
– Nintendo very obviously did not develop this one, so some may take issue with the presentation


Review: Star Fox 64 3D

Boring prologue: Star Fox is an odd series for me, one that I never really got into before this. First there was the original eponymous game on the SNES — groundbreaking at the time for sure, now graphically dated and ugly. This aesthetic/shallow barrier presents a challenge for me to even complete the training stage, as sometimes I am not really sure what I am shooting at or why.

The 64 iteration was somehow skipped by yours truly much the same, although this time it was due to indifference in regards to the controls (I could not for the life of me figure out a summersault without running into random objects) and subject matter — that of sci fi nerdiness. Space stuff in general is not exactly my forte, unless it has Mario in it. Well, if Mario is in outer space a second time, anyway.

Years later, with forgotten GameCube and DS titles left in the dust, the 3DS system comes and almost goes and I am sitting here in a quandary — should I buy this game even though I have not particularly been interested in the series before? The total lack of anything to play coupled with my absolutely awful impulsive behavior negated the question entirely and I had it in my hands the moment GameStop opened on launch day.

For once, I can thank my persistent, life-long failure at trying to save money. Star Fox 64, 3D or not, is one of the best games I have played this year.

Simply described as a “rail shooter” with sections of “all range” combat (fly in any direction to generally fight a boss in the middle of a giant arena), it is also incredibly addictive and completely timeless. The action is fast, the enemies are arranged in formations reminiscent of classic arcade titles like Galaga, and the boss battles are epic and utterly satisfying.

A single play through will take an hour of your time, maybe 30 minutes more at most. This could be misconstrued as something quite negative, especially for a re-release priced at $40, but you will not play this just one time. Why not, you ask? (Italics?) There are two reasons: first, the game is so fun that an hour will melt away in an instant, and secondly, no single play through is the same. Almost every planet you fly in (not to mention those pesky submarine/tank missions) has an optional way of completing them, which in turn leads to previously unexplored worlds to conquer. There are so many different ways to get from point A to point B it is exhilarating.

Along with the process of opening up new planets to explore and racking up medals (kill a ridiculous set amount of enemies in a level), there is an actual story, too. Granted, it is of one that is a bit hackneyed; save the universe from the evil villain and whatnot. But what really shines here are the characters, all of which are memorable — sometimes unintentionally so, but nevertheless memorable. You are Fox McCloud, leader of the group, uhm, Star Fox, which also includes Slippy, Falco, and Peppy. Peppy might be the lesser of the supporting cast, but he’s still kinda cool. The best of the lot is definitely a tie between Slippy and Falco, both polar opposites in terms of personality and skill: Slippy is just awful at, uhm, everything, and also happens to be a total wuss — while Falco is a sarcastic asshole, one who quips negatively about everyone’s performance (including yours), but is at least capable of piloting and shooting down various enemies. Most of the time, anyway.

The story is constantly woven into the gameplay thanks to wonderful one-liners and excellent voiceover work. It is makes for an interesting combination — an addictive arcade/score attack title (albeit one with many paths to explore) that also has a story competent enough to feel at home in any simple RPG.

The original N64 release featured graphics that were amazing at the time (specifically, all the way back in 1997), but nowadays it almost looks like someone drank a gallon of green Kool Aid and vomited everywhere. OK, not that bad, but it has dated rather poorly. In complete contrast, the 3DS version looks absolutely wonderful. There are still occasional patches of blurry textures, but most everything has an ornate sense of detail and looks breathtaking — water and fire in particular. Wait until you reach Zoness. Woof.

The 3DS version also sports a few nifty options: one is 3D, another is gyro controls. I can not comment much on the gyro sensor, other than that it works pretty well, albeit with 3D turned all the way down. It is an interesting feature, but not comparable to the slide pad in terms of reliability and function.

The 3D is decent, but nothing spectacular. It provides some depth but not that much of it; my slider is all the way to the top and I barely even notice it sometimes. At least it’s not occasionally distracting like the hilariously intense 3D found in Pilotwings Resort.

There is also a beefed up, totally not online multiplayer mode. If you have any 3DS toting friends near by — any, seriously — it’s a very fun take on something akin to battle mode in Mario Kart. Each person’s 3DS camera also captures their face at the same time, providing a new layer of hilarity as you can see the disappointment one feels when they are shot down. Still, it is not online, and that absolutely sucks.

If you have not played through the original much like me, then by all means SF643D is absolutely worth every penny of that $40 — the very definition of a sublime game, and is the best version ten times over thanks to the amazing visuals and fun local multiplayer. If you have, though, maybe wait until it drops at least ten dollars. It will, too, at least online, probably in a month or so.

+ Probably one of the best games ever made, but a lot better.
+ Controls flawlessly with the circle pad.
+ Insanely addictive.
+ Best looking 3DS game so far.
+ Memorable characters/lines, great voice acting.

– No online multiplayer.
– It’s been released multiple times now.

(For those who’ve played it 5,000,000 times before: ****/*****)