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

 / 

Advertisements

Games Are Expensive! I Should Maybe Play These

Dear Nerd Diary,

I have gone back and forth and back and forth between OKAY I REALLY AM GONNA BUY THAT NEW KIRBY GAME and WELL MATT MAYBE YOU SHOULD THINK ABOUT BUYING SOME FOOD FIRST.

This is a problem.

It is further compounded when I gaze longingly towards my SD card on my Wii: dozens and dozens of games I have purchased, sometimes for more than $10, 90% of them barely played. What the fuck is my problem?

So, I am going to bombard this blog with five billion reviews, hopefully. I must resolve this issue — I will play every single one of these games to (near) completion, review them, and then by the time I’m done sometime in 2013 I can begin buying new games! What a great idea.

First up: Kirby 64. Expect a pretty positive review, maybe.

Kirby 64; Awful StarFox GCN Game

Dear Nerd Diary,

Last night while watching some YouTube videos of the new Kirby game (it looks pretty fun!!), I turned on my Wii and started actually playing Kirby 64, a purchase I had made over two years ago and really did not even start to play. That is the state of my money problem — I buy things and then do nothing with said things. The simple ACT of buying something is worth it for me, almost more than the game experience itself. I might as well be buying salami in bulk!! EW!!! I HATE SALAMI!!

Kirby 64: The Crystal Shards (or Sharts as I will now call it) is AMAZING! What a cute, simple, FUN platformer for the good ol’ N64.

I am enjoying it quite a bit. It’s very slow paced and easy from point A to point B, but not if you want those three secret Crystal Sharts in every level. You have to really work for them. Also, special to this Kirby game is the ability to combine powers, which leads to an endless supply of goofyness. Ice + Bomb? SNOWMAN THAT EXPLODES. Bomb + Fire? FIREWORKS KIRBY. Ice + Rock? A CURLING PUCK.

Hmmm.

Love, Matt

P.S. Don’t buy StarFox Assault just because SF643D is amazing. Lesson learned. It is pretty mediocre.

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: ****/*****)

Ooops, I Just Bought Urban Champion (Quick Review I Guess)

I like the idea behind the 3D Classics line of games. Y’know, 2D is suddenly 3D by the power of MAGIC or whatever. It’s very appealing, and even though Excitebike didn’t set my world on fire, that Xevious remake so did — it made me fall in love with a game I kind of always actually hated.

Hoping the magic would work on lonely old Urban Champion, I ponied up the $5 and was ready to be spellbound (that is the worst word ever) by some amazing 3D-enhanced classic gaming goodness.

But oh my god, I don’t know. I just don’t. What did I just play for 30 minutes? I literally punched like 10 dudes to the right of the screen over and over and THAT WAS IT!!!

This is all new to me because I actually have never played Urban Champion before. The box art and Ninty nostalgia factor have always interested me, despite a billion and one warnings (ie IGN about every two years saying how it’s the worst Nintendo game of all time).

I don’t know if it’s the worst Nintendo game of all time — there is an odd, simplistic charm about the thing. All you do is punch fucking assholes, but it’s nice to move up the ranks.

The 3D effect? I don’t know (again). I just don’t. It doesn’t really add anything — if you don’t mess with the options and turn on the slightly amusing “camera option” (said camera swoops around each building you cross as you punch more and more guys), you’re literally playing an NES title with sprites popping out of the screen and that’s it. Even if you do have the “camera option” turned on, I don’t know? I don’t know.

I’d like to think that it’s a fun novelty I’ll pull out every once in awhile, and I haven’t played multiplayer on it so I don’t know (again). I can see punching (again, no other moves — you can’t even fucking kick) my friend in the face becoming a good time. But which friend of mine is EVER going to buy this?

If you loved it back then because, y’know, there were no better options, and are dying of nostalgia like the rest of us, I see it as a worthwhile purchase. Otherwise, take a 10 second glance at any YouTube video of the game and you’ve seen the entire game. Five bucks would be much better spent on some Taco Bell.

**/*****

3DS Will Be $80 Less This August

Nintendo is insane. Come August 12th, the 3DS will go all the way down to $169.99. This is a phenomenal price, and anyone and everyone should pick it up for such. But it’s also hilariously terrifying.

We all knew the 3DS was overpriced (especially via news that producing each one cost Nintendo a paltry $101), but this seriously confirms it. Those who waited until good games came out were the smart ones, at least in comparison to the other twelve people (me included) that bought one at launch.

Around eighty dollars less (or more including tax), this paints the most obvious portrait of failure ever. The 3DS is simply not doing well, at all. Sales are dismal: in the past three months, the handheld has only sold 710,000 worldwide. Less than a million across the globe.

Nintendo is softening the blow for everyone who stupidly bought it already by offering 20 free games from upcoming NES (yawn) and GBA (alright!) virtual console selections. Yes, the 3DS will now offer games from those two systems in a few months.

Twenty free games is a fucking lot of free games, but I’m still paranoid the 3DS will become the next Virtual Boy.