Review: Klonoa (Wii, 2009)

Klonoa-Wii

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 It felt old hat and outdated.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!!!

Uh.

Ahem.

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.

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Playing through Klonoa.

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Hi! On a beautiful trip to a couple of video game stores in Pittsburgh, I happened to score two used Wii games — neither of which are actually, y’know, rare or anything — Klonoa, released in 2009, and de Blob 2, the MAYBE (I have yet to play it) inventive platformer that pretty much tanked developer Blue Tongue. I liked the first one, so I’m sure I’ll like this one, too.

(Insert three sentences in which I explain that I had already owned Klonoa back when it was released but traded it in because I’m a total buttface.)

Klonoa is a special series for me. It or Pandemonium kickstarted my whole love affair for the 2.5D platformer, a bygone relic of the late 90s, and I tend to say Klonoa to strangers (this subject always comes up so naturally!!!) because no one likes Pandemonium, at all. (I enjoy it, shhh.) I was maybe twelve or so when I rented the original game for the PSX, so it holds some nostalgic memories of me being entranced by its very Japanese gameplay. It is a slow-paced, beautiful platformer, and my goard look at all of the things you can walk around and in and through!! Actually, as is obvious, it’s hard to explain what really makes Klonoa work the way it does for me… it just does, and I hope to be able to get there someday.

Which means, pretty much, I’m going to dedicate the next month or so to all of the Klonoa games — including the PS2 sequel that I might have played a minute or two of at best. Even on this rinky dink site that probably accrues about 10 hits per month, Klonoa deserves some exposure, because it’s so little loved and unheralded and that makes me kinda sad.

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”

 OUT OF 

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.

 OUT OF 

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

 / 

Super Mario Galaxy Was a Disappointment

It had been a looooong five years since Super Mario Sunshine. A much maligned entry in the Mario series, almost everyone thought it wasn’t a “true” successor to Mario 64 — including the creator of Mario himself. Granted, I loved the shit out of Sunshine after an awkward few hours, so I’ll never understand any complaints lobbied against its creative and joyful brilliance.

Still, I could tell Galaxy was meant to be something different, something special and important. It looked epic, and the one thing Mario needed after a cute little vacay on some random island was something as such. Hype was huge, reviews were amazing. I could not sleep all night before release (Nintendo =/= midnight releases at GameStop, no matter how big the game).

I remember getting home that morning, hands trembling, wondering what I was getting myself into as I tore off the cellophane. The title screen was instantly an emotional experience; Mario in space, flying around with some dramatic strings in the background. An insanely well made opening video introduces the game, something I swore Square Enix (well, the talented ones there) must have had a hand in.

Awe during the tutorial sections, jumping from planetoid to planetoid. Music absolutely beautiful, graphics the best on the Wii. The first time landing on Good Egg Galaxy, silence before and then absolutely perfect music (one of the best video game songs ever) upon touchdown = instant goosebumps.

After this initial moment of joy, something happens. Rather, Honeyhive Galaxy happens. The second “world” or “level” in the game, it appears to almost be a more open ended example of 3D Mario gameplay (ala Sunshine or 64) until one realizes how small and boring it actually is. There’s just not much to do in the level — point A to point B. (This is not an argument against linearity in Mario games; the 2D games outside of World are built upon it and I cherish every second I have with them.)

It’s just the epitome of unexciting level design. Something’s definitely off when crawling around on a giant, furry bee is a dull experience in a Mario game. It could have been because I as a player was doing another at-this-point-getting-really-dull collectathon that we all OD’d on in the late 90s via various Mario 64 knockoffs, but that’s another post for another time.

Levels of this general dullness continued on. An early highlight is a “side” galaxy, not even a main one (Super Sweet Galaxy). Part of the reason for this is because of the actual lack of variety within the game; while Galaxy was touted and reviewed as a game with an endless amount of ideas, all we were doing aside from standard Mario game mechanics was jumping from spherical planetoid to planetoid. As awesome and interesting as this at first, level after level of this quickly grows tiresome.

These boring levels and objectives (get the star!) are surrounded by a hub world that, while pretty, is a rather drab affair to traverse in.

Granted, not all of the game is as boring as Honeyhive Galaxy. There are moments as awe inspiring as the first, although some of that is due to the music and the graphics. And even the boring shit isn’t terrible, it’s just not up to snuff for Mario platformers. This is all made evident by the absolute brilliance and perfection of Super Mario Galaxy 2 — every star achieved feels original and new in that game, whereas in the first one it all feels sorta the same.

Every once in awhile a new idea was thrown at us, and I didn’t take them for granted: using the Wiimote to tilt a giant ball underneath Mario’s feet; pointing at the screen and using a motorized fan to blow Mario around in space. These ideas felt fresh and relieved us from the chore of simply getting another star. Later worlds started getting a bit more creative, like the Toy Time and Dreadnought galaxies.

Super Mario Galaxy also did a few other things right that I can not deny: the music is brilliant from almost start to finish, the graphics are incredible the whole way through, and the (for the most part) automatically controlled camera is genius.

Also, for as boring as a lot of the game felt to me personally, it’s obvious I’m in the minority. “Game of the year” from almost every gaming website out there, it’s clear that Super Mario Galaxy was a big deal for some gamers out there. But for yours truly, it’s definitely his least favorite 3D Mario game.

Jeez Matt

I have this enormous backlog of games to review before I purchase any more, I’ve decided a couple weeks ago (a rule broken by Zelda: OOT 3D [naturally] and Pop Island: Paperfield [of all things]). Here’s the list:

DS
Chibi-Robo: Park Control

Cube
Metal Gear Solid: Twin Snakes
Luigi’s Mansion

Wii
Mario Sports Mix
Snowpack Park
Fluidity

3DS
Excitebike 3D
Zelda: Link’s Awakening
Trajectile (DSiWare)
Pop Island: Paperfield (DSiWare)
Zelda: Ocarina of Time 3D

ELEVEN GAMES. This is both a saving money measure (for real life stuff) and a way to point out that I’m insane and buy/acquire/trade in too many video games. Sigh.

This also means no Resident Evil: Mercenaries 3D anytime soon. Waaah. 😦