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

 / 

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.

**/*****

Club Nintendo: Game & Watch Collection 2

Not sure if I will officially review the game since it’s pretty rare and basically a giveaway, but if I did I’d probably give it three stars. Who knows, man.

What I do know is that it’s a fun little thing for those who don’t mind absolutely brain-dead simple score attack games. And it’s free. One feels that it’d probably be worth something in a few years.

There are two Game & Watch titles from the early 80s on board, along with a “remix” that combines both of them. Both are aquatic in nature, and the surrounding menus are attractive and sort of adorable. Also, said menus are way less ugly than on the first G&W Collection.

Parachute has you rowing a boat to save parachuting people from the shark infested waters below. You move left and right, catch them, and that’s it.

Octopus has a bit more depth, albeit steeped in a game design that is rather random and sometimes unfair. Using one of three guys, you go into the ocean while avoiding an Octopus as you gather treasure and bring it back to the boat. It’s fun, but it’s almost impossible to gauge how the Octopus will move his stupid tentacles.

Of the two games, I have enjoyed Parachute a lot more, which is unfortunate because it’s also by far the more simple game.

The remix of the two games is exactly what you think it would be — save the parachuting dudes on the top screen, avoid octopus while getting treasure on the bottom screen.

For 800 Club Nintendo coins, it’s one of the more pricey prizes on the North American store. Is it worth it? Should you save your coins? That depends — it’s an actual game you can enjoy, in short spurts. New items that appear in the store usually happen to be things like towels, push pins, pouches, folders/stationary (yech); so something like G&WC2 — as simple as it may be — is rather appealing.

Review: Resident Evil: The Mercs 3D

Two bad things right away: this is a mini-game for $40, and you cannot delete your save data ever.

Let me repeat that: YOU CANNOT DELETE YOU SAVE DATA.

EVER.

EVER EVER EVER.

OK.

That is a genuine boner kill, for sure. No matter how it affects you — whether or not you really care — it’s just a really shitty thing for Capcom to do. Personally, I don’t give two farts about not being able to delete my own save file. I don’t have a need to, as “starting fresh” after already playing for hours really just amounts to doing the same damn thing over and over again (not the biggest fan of that). But it doesn’t matter that it doesn’t affect me personally. What Capcom is doing is implementing an awful new DRM method that totally fucks over anyone who buys a used copy, and also the nerd giving it to GameStop for a measly four bucks or whatever. This thing has no resell value whatsoever.

It is also a mini-game. Featured on Resident Evil 4 and 5 as a bonus throwaway, you basically shoot and kill and punch as many zombie assholes as possible while trying to survive within a time limit. However, it is a very fun mini-game.

There’s really little else to the cartridge — you just have 30 some “missions,” almost all of which involve the super serious voice over dude shouting at you “DEFEAT AS MANY ENEMIES AS YOU CAN!”

What really makes this game addictive, though, are the unlockables. There are a LOT. You have “medals,” which is Capcom’s way of saying “JEEEEZ Nintendo, why can’t you have an achievement system like everyone else?????” by supplying their own. Every new one earned feels great, and surprising as they usually come out of nowhere (a lot of standard ones — like killing so and so amount of enemies, etc).

There are characters to unlock, along with stages/missions and skills. Every character can take three skills with them into battle, and they range from being able to heal quicker to shooting a handgun with more precision. Obvious stuff, but both earning and using these skills is an absolute blast. On top of this, you can also level each skill up so they become more powerful.

You can play with another person in the same room (who also has their own overpriced copy) or someone online, and it works flawlessly. There are two boss battles and you basically NEED another player shooting the creature down with you to succeed.

This multiplayer functionality is wonderful and retains all of the fun we got from Resident Evil 5 (which was the best part of that game).

Graphically, it looks amazing and has more detail than say, RE4 for the GameCube. Seeing this in motion will definitely surprise you, and the idea/concept of carrying around a portable RE title sans story (which honestly isn’t as bad as you’re thinking) is a great one. The only hitch, described in every review out there, is that enemies a little far away look absolutely terrible, thanks to some odd flipbook-like animation.

The 3D is really well done — I’ve had mine all the way up the entire way through and loved it. It is nowhere near as intense as, say, Pilotwings Resort — but it doesn’t need to be. It looks great and adds some pizazz to an already pretty game.

With all of these pluses, it’s still just a mini-game for $40. One feels that it could have been a downloadable title on the PS360 for $15-20 at the most, albeit a great one.

+It’s really addictive and fun
+Chainsaw dude still hilariously terrifying
+It looks pretty
+Includes a demo for RE: Revelations, which gives the player a good feel of how awesome that game will be

-It’s overpriced, should be $30 at the most
-You can’t delete your save data, so you should probably not buy this used
-Gets a little old after awhile
-Enemies far away look terrible

***/*****

Review: Wii Play Motion

Back when Wii Play Motion was announced earlier this year, most Nintendo nerds like me forgot that it’s actually a sequel to 2007’s very divisive Wii Play. Now that game everyone remembers, although not for the greatest reasons: a 58 on Metacritic, it was mostly cherished for the fact that you got a controller and a game for $50.

It sold well, but as everyone always points out — it was because there was a controller in the bundle!

That may not be completely true, though. A long four years ago, the term “casual gaming” meant Wii in general: everything it stood for, everything it was. Grandparents and little kids, old and young; it was for everyone. My dad actually picked up video games for the first time since the late 90s thanks to Wii Sports. And you know what? He loved Wii Play.

Which leads me to believe that a lot of people probably enjoyed the game. Hardcore gamers? No. Wii Play wasn’t meant for them, and that’s probably why it’s still remembered as a weak cash-in.

Motion gaming is still here and doing alright, but that’s mostly thanks to the widespread (and waning?) popularity of the Kinect. Once skeptical of the creepy XBox accessory, Dance Central made me believe. It is one of the best motion-based games I’ve ever played. But what are the casual Wii gamers of 2007 playing now? More specifically, what’s my dad playing?

Why, he’s playing on his iPod Touch. Casual gaming is now on the go, in your pocket, cheap and has nothing to do with moving your hands over here and over there.

Which places Wii Play Motion in an interesting quandary. Who is this game for? Is it to bring back lapsed Wii gamers into the fold? Or is there still a decent market out there for Wii Play players?

Nintendo combated the general nerd gamer fatigue over depth-less mini-game compilations by providing a list of developers up front: Skip, Good-Feel, Mitchell, Prope. These people brought us games like Chibi-Robo, Wario Land: Shake It, Let’s Tap, Kirby’s Epic Yarn. There was sudden hope among us nerds. This could be the ultimate party game, or like something.

Well, it’s not.

That isn’t to say it’s a terrible game. It’s just not that great.

Or, better yet: Wii Play Motion is slightly better than Wii Play. If you loved Wii Play, you will fucking LOVE THIS GAME.

The grand package includes 12 mini-games and a shiny new Wii MotionPlus controller. For $50, this is of course a good deal (unless gaming to you means new games for a buck). But if you didn’t like Wii Play at all, or even a little bit, you’re better off waiting for the upcoming Skyward Sword bundle or just buying a new controller on its own for $10 less. At least you won’t have a game you don’t play providing more clutter on your nerdy shelf.

Me? I liked Wii Play. It wasn’t amazing, of course, and was promptly traded in, but it was harmless fun with a nice generic-fied presentation. Some games were better than others, and playing with other people was always a good time. I actually have really good memories of playing fishing and table tennis with my dad. The best one was billards — even though it had awkward controls, my dad was such a champ.

So I naturally like Wii Play Motion. I find the menus attractive and most of the games fun. Playing by oneself is always an “alright” experience that fades quickly, but playing with someone else is an easy way to laugh and have a good time.

The best mini-games are Teeter Targets (Peggle with a teeter totter), Cone Zone (with another person, though — balance as many scoops of ice cream as you can on a giant cone) and Treasure Twirl (find treasure in decently designed levels while avoiding obstacles).

The rest are fairly good and have their moments, minus two: Pose Mii Plus (a carryover from the original game, so dull) and Star Shuttle (hilariously over-complicated controls).

I have a feeling my dad would be pretty disinterested if I showed him Wii Play Motion. Sign of the times, man. I’ll bring it over to the house and will give an update. (My dad is apparently the spokesperson for the entire casual audience.)

Whether or not Motion is for you is totally up to how much you enjoyed Wii Play, if you did. If you haven’t played it, do you enjoy casual/simple games? Y/n? The MotionPlus controls do add some interesting quirks, but not enough to warrant a purchase based on them alone.

***/*****