Star Wars (Lucasgames, 1991)

There are plenty of candidates for the greatest Star Wars video game ever made. Perhaps Battlefront II, Knights of the Old Republic or The Force Unleashed are high on the list. Or even Empire At War. Maybe Lego Star Wars: The Complete Saga deserves a mention. Not for me. The video game that I will hold up as my favourite will always be the 1991 NES game, simply titled Star Wars.

Firstly, it had a badass trailer. Your mum almost got killed by Darth Vader? Who cares? Because video games.

Secondly, it’s one of the toughest games out there. If you manage to get hold of the game, you’ll immediately see why. The controls aren’t necessarily frustrating, but the sheer length of the game, limited continues and the fact you have to do it all in one sitting (yes, in 1991 nobody had invented a way to save a game) all stack up to make it a tough ask.

The goals of the initial part of the game are fairly simple. Take Luke around Tatooine, retrieve R2-D2 from the Sandcrawler, find Obi-Wan Kenobi in a (really annoying dripping) cave, collect Han Solo from the Mos Eisley cantina (with beautifully recreated 8-bit audio), all whilst collecting shields for the Millennium Falcon. These tasks can be done in any order you wish, though I always found it easier to get Obi-Wan first. Then you take the Millennium Falcon for a spin towards the Death Star. Once inside, you destroy the tractor beam generator, rescue Leia, then destroy the Death Star itself.

Sounds simple, but don’t forget that in 1991 anyone wanting to make a sidescroller game really hard would just throw in more near-impossible jumps and flood the screen with enemies and harmful projectiles.

There’s a great walkthrough of the game here by Heroes of Xanadu – Sloth. Watching it brings back a lot of fond memories. If you want to know just how tricky it got, look at the video around the 26 minute mark.

I’m not saying it’s the best Star Wars game ever. I mean, it doesn’t even allow you to have a dance off with the Emperor. But it was technically advanced for its time and was mesmerizing as my seven-year-old self. I’ve never been as gripped by a Star Wars game as I was for this one.

In researching this article I’m astonished to discover that there was a sequel to this game, again with the simple title of The Empire Strikes Back. I’m not surprised this wasn’t big news for me. I remember the game cost £60 when it was released. That’s a whopping £121 in today’s money! Thanks mum.

Find it, play it, cry.

スーパーマリオメーカ / Super Mario Maker (Nintendo, 2015)

The latest excellent game on the Wii U for the majority of the gaming community to ignore is Super Mario Maker, a game that puts the gamer in the driving seat to control the content of Mario levels in one of four skins: Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World and New Super Mario Bros.

As the trailer above shows, the content is quick and easy to activate, meaning a basic level can be created in no time at all. It may be fiddly at first but once the tools are used a couple of times it becomes remarkably intuitive. You simply control the content on the gamepad using the stylus (did you forget you had that?) and a giant hand replicates it on the screen. After a fairly basic tutorial you are ready to go!

Then comes a huge hurdle. One major issue you encounter at this point is the requirement to keep playing on consecutive days in order to unlock the more advanced level features. This means that perseverance is the key – the only key – to unlocking the tools to make the most innovative levels for friends to enjoy. The thinking behind it is clearly to make sure players don’t make a couple of exceptionally tough levels then disappear forever, though for the more dedicated amongst us it is frustrating. For anyone getting the game on day one and trying to put together a cool new course, get ready to be disappointed – all you get are four types of blocks, three enemies, mushroom power ups and pipes.

 

There wasnt mushroom for anything else in this level. Geddit? Mush room? Oh never mind.

 
As expected, Amiibo functionality is a key feature. When scanned, one of several things might occur, depending on which figuring has been scanned. For the most part a new playable character will be unlocked. This is fun but there is a flaw – the character is allocated at random so you can’t design the level around who you’ve placed in the box. It is quite fun to play as Link or Yoshi progressing through the stages he’s active in, though doesn’t add too much to the game. It’s disappointing that this is only available for the Super Mario Bros. themes and does nothing for the remaining three.

Where the game comes into its own is the ability to access other people’s levels. There is a leader board based on popularity and spending an hour in there was a joy. One level I played was called “Don’t Touch The Shrooms”, a tough level that can only be completed if you can avoid mushrooms due to a carefully placed spring board. When mushrooms are being fired at you from all angles it gets quite stressful!

Feel free to add me on your Wii U account and try out some of my Super Mario Maker creations. My username is Hutchie and I’ll be slowly unleashing increasingly complex levels throughout the weekend.

This game has legs. It might not feel impressive on first look but get the hang of it now and it will reward as more features are unlocked.

Super Mario Maker is available as a Wii U exclusive worldwide now.

The Walking Dead: Road To Survival (Scopely, 2015)

Robert Kirkman has just taken to the official The Walking Dead Twitter account to reveal a new free-to-play game available from the Apple Store and Google Play Store. Titled Road To Survival, it is a global strategy game that focuses on The Governor period of the story timeline. The visuals are a sort of full-colour beefed-up interpretation of the comic book, but looks of the same universe.

Hear Robert Kirkman talking about it here.

Have you played it yet? Is it any good?

The Walking Dead: The Game – Season One (Telltale Games, 2012)

One way to further your total immersion into the Walking Dead universe is to take on the emotionally-tiring episodic video game series from Telltale Games. Be warned: do not attempt if you have a history of heart conditions.

Whilst most modern games push for bigger and better graphics, more epic explosions, larger guns and loud noises, this take on the interactive adventure genre instead induces panic by forcing the player to make incredibly tough decisions in a snapshot of time without much prior warning.

The action takes place in the events immediately after the outbreak of the apocalypse in the same Atlanta locations as the early parts of the comic and TV series. You take control of convicted murderer Lee Everett, a character we are yet to meet in any other canonical Walking Dead media, as he comes to terms with the loss of his family, whilst trying to keep himself and young girl Clementine alive.

The character Clementine is the masterstroke of the game, giving it an emotional edge seldom seen in video games. The decisions made aren’t on the level of which zombie to kill first to keep us alive, but rather how can Lee earn the trust of Clementine to make sure she sides with him and can be kept safe. In this way, whilst there are always choices to be made, there is a tendency to take the moral high-ground and sensible options to ensure the right impression is made at all times.

Decision, decisions.

Decision, decisions.

This is easier said than done. Often the prompt to make a decision flashes on the screen and a button input must be made immediately. There may be four options displayed but there is always the fifth option available too: doing nothing at all often leads to the worst outcome. Mild panic ensues each time the decision prompt appears – a great way to keep players on edge.

There are some nice touches, with several familiar characters appearing to help Lee and Clementine on their early missions. Hershel, his son Shawn and Glenn appear, though these are the only ones seen in the first game.

The game was released as an episodic series in 2012 in five parts, with the 400 Days DLC released soon after. As a result, each episode is left on a slight cliffhanger, a nice touch that makes it necessary to go back for the next part (much like the comic and television series).

Stylistically, it stands on its own away from the designs of the comics and the TV series. Yet, somehow it inhabits both worlds. This is testament to both the design team and the guidance offered by the fully realised world of the source material.

As an immersive experience, The Walking Dead: The Game – Season One is one of the most accomplished video games this genre has ever seen. If you’ve completed it, you can always check out Season Two and the upcoming Michonne DLC, due in December.

The Walking Dead: The Game – Season One is available to purchase as a Game of the Year Edition, featuring all episodes and DLC, now.

スーパーマリオブラザーズ 2 / Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels (Nintendo, 1986)

Following the success of Super Mario Bros. on the Family Computer in Japan in 1985, Nintendo decided to capitalise and release a sequel using the same game design and graphics. This one, titled Super Mario Bros. 2, didn’t initially see the light of day in Europe or USA, owing to the fact that it was deemed too difficult for gamers outside of the Asian market.

Instead, the Western markets got their own separate game, which might have had the same name but was actually a sprite update of Japanese game Yume Kōjō: Doki Doki Panic. In 1986, nobody in the West cared because hardly anyone knew what had happened. We got a fantastic game in which you could choose to play as Mario, Luigi, Toad or Princess Toadstool. It introduced many gameplay elements and character traits that stuck with series forever more, as well as a host of enemies. It was simply the next in the series and a welcome one at that.

It wasn’t until the the Japanese game was released as part of Super Mario All-Stars on the Super Nintendo in 1993 that the wider Western public became aware of it. What they found when they began to play it was a game full of pitfalls and frustrating game design with the sole purpose of over-challenging anyone who dared continue to see if it got any easier.

The version most readily available nowadays – and the version play-tested here – is available on both the Wii and Wii U virtual consoles. It doesn’t cost the world (500 points) so may well tempt those unaware of its background.

Playing the game now it’s clear why it wasn’t unleashed on the Western gamers of 1986. It may well have killed the franchise. The difficulty picks up at around the same difficulty or World 7 or 8 of the predecessor, meaning that by World 3 the whole game is entirely infuriating.

All the things that might have helped you in the first in the series are either toned down or flipped to trick you. In addition to the 1-UP and power-up mushrooms, there are now poison mushroom that cause you damage. In addition to the Warp Pipes that you’d expect to help you every time, there are additional pipes that take you backwards to earlier worlds, meaning that unless you do your research (remember how difficult that would have been in 1986?) you could end up going backwards. The number of coins available is greatly reduced as well.

The fun-dampening doesn’t end there. Many of the jumps are near-impossible leaps of faith that often don’t leave much confidence prior to trying them out. Doing so is a trial and error situation that can quickly cause you to game over. Trying to speed through a level? Good luck – the game designers have placed a smattering of hidden mystery boxes that usually cause instant death by knocking you off balance. The platform lengths are unforgiving too, meaning both run ups and landing spaces require pin-point precision or else Mario will fall into another pit.

There are also several levels that require a particular pathway to reach the end goal; running from left to right will just cause an infinite loop and the final goal will never be reached. The only solution is to either hope you get it right by chance or give in and search for a solution on YouTube (always a disappointment).

This is the first Mario game to introduce the concept of hidden worlds post-completion. If you manage to complete the game without using a Warp Pipe then you’ll be rewarded with World 9, which is a fantasy world that utilises a psychadelic colour scheme and some bizarre game mechanics. It’s entirely straightforward and requires no concentration whatsoever despite the fact they remove all your hard-earned lives before the start. In additional to World 9 are Worlds A-D, which were also available to anyone willing to persevere. However, anyone that wishes to see how they play (apparently they’re even trickier than the main game) will need to complete the game eight times in the same save file.

Are you FUCKING kidding me!?

Are you FUCKING kidding me!?

The one saving grace is that on the Virtual Console versions there is the opportunity to save at any point throughout the game. This will no doubt be implemented by most quite a lot towards the end of the game, as an absolute necessity. When tackling a single jump takes ten or more attempts, the thought of trying to do this without a save option will fill anyone with dread.

 

This is what many hours of misery will reward you with

 
This game will suit die-hard fans and people with sadistic tendencies. It is a form of self-punishment and is seldom enjoyable. Completing the game won’t fill you with joy, but it might give you more confidence to tackle the hardest levels on Mario Maker when it arrives later this year.

Super Mario Bros.: The Lost Levels is available now on the Wii U virtual console.

Yoshi’s Woolly World / Yosshī Ūru Wārudo ヨッシーウールワールド (Nintendo, 2015)

The latest entry into the Yoshi game series, Yoshi’s Woolly World, has been released in Europe and Japan as a Wii U exclusive. Due to a delay in the release of the Wii U Legend of Zelda game it is also getting a little more focus as one of two big games released by Nintendo this summer, the other being the unexpectedly popular Splatoon, released in May of this year.

The game is set in a thoroughly gorgeous knitted world made entirely of wool. The aim of the game is to take control of Yoshi and rescue your friends following an attack by the evil wizard Kamek, who has turned the rest of the Yoshi species into balls of yarn.

If you're looking for a challenge, you're in the wrong place.

If you’re looking for a challenge, you’re in the wrong place.

Gameplay

If you’re picking this up as a fan of any of the Wii U Mario games and hoping for a new challenge, you may well be bitterly disappointed. The core gameplay is very slow in pace. The lack of time-limit gives players the opportunity to appreciate the environment around them, which sets it apart from, say, New Luigi Bros U, which gives a 100 second time-limit to each level and ensures you have no time to look around at any point. There is no way to significantly speed up a playthrough, at least not until all the collectables have been discovered.

Another factor that means players have an easy ride is the fact there is no way to die. If Yoshi meets his demise, he simply respawns at a convenient position earlier in the level. This respawning has been commonplace in the increasingly forgiving world of video games – especially those considered to be for hardcore gamers – for the last few years but has been conspicuous in its absence in the Mario franchise. It’s a disappointment to see it here and with no lives to manage it is lacking in any concern for success at all.

Remarkably, there is also an additional Mellow Mode, which allows players to fly through the stages. Literally. Yoshi grows wings and takes flight to find all the collectables and avoid all of the obstacles in half the time. Fantastic.

The only thing keeping this from being a very easy interpretation of a Mario-esque 2D platformer is the inclusion of four different collectables. To fully complete each stage you must collect five balls of yarn, five flower heads, finish the stage with full health (you start each stage with half-health) and collect twenty stamp tokens. It’s quite a lazy way to make a game challenging but it does ensure that there’s a degree of replayability.

With its handmade feel it looks very similar to the Wii game Kirby’s Epic Yarn / 毛糸のカービィ, probably because it is from the same development house, Good-Feel. Indeed, they also share a producer in Etsunobu Ebisu and the same composer in Tomoya Tomita. That game itself was inspired at least in part by Yoshi’s Story on the Nintendo 64, so it’s nice the design has come full circle. If there is one redeeming factor it is the wonderfully realised world it inhabits.

Amiibo Support

The amiibo support is minimal at best. All that can be accessed is a reskinning of the controlled character with unusual character colours. It’s a nice touch but doesn’t really add much after the initial chuckle (which lasts around two seconds).

The amiibo support is minimal at best.

The amiibo support is minimal at best.

The amiibo functionality isn’t clearly explained in-game. It is activated by tapping an amiibo on the gamepad (the one with the screen) during the playing of a stage. In single player, this causes an additional second Yoshi to appear to assist Player 1. In Co-op mode, Player 1 Yoshi will simply be reskinned. The amiibo can also be activated in the amiibo hut on the main map.

Summary

It’s difficult to determine how popular this game will be. It definitely has a market out there. It is perfect for younger players and will undoubtedly be enjoyed by parents wanting some entertainment for them to enjoy with their children. For those players who enjoyed the likes of Champions Road in the excellent Super Mario 3D World, there’s not much to be found here.

Yoshi’s Woolly World is available to purchase in Japan and Europe now. It will be released in USA in October 2015.

Upcoming Crowdfunded Films Preview Part Two: AVGN The Movie

I’ve been following the foul-mouthed ranting reviews of terrible old video games by the Angry Video Game Nerd (portrayed by James Rolfe) for many years. They’re one of my go-to videos on the net when I have 10 minutes to kill and want a sure-fire way to give myself a shot of humour. For someone who grew up with these infuriating games, seeing him struggle to play through Silver Surfer or Wayne’s World is a hilarious blast from the past and if you’ve not seen them I heartily recommend you check them out.

One thing you will pick up on if you watch his videos is just how much he knows about his subject matter, and it doesn’t stop at video games. I remember being blown away by his cross-referencing of the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series with the classic horror films they were paying homage to. There is no way he could have looked any of these up; he just knows his stuff.

So when he announced he was doing a movie based on The Nerd, I was immediately excited. The subject matter – his quest to unearth the legendary hidden ET Atari cartridges in a landfill in New Mexico – is ideal. At the time the film started production, these cartridges were one of the biggest myths of the video game industry and the story had taken on a life of its own. Some believed it was a complete fabrication, whilst others were convinced they were buried somewhere. Nobody knew how many would be found if they were ever located, and many doubted the increasingly renowned story.

avgnscreenshot

What has been frustrating is the recent unearthing of the Atari cartridges, itself documented a the Zack Penn film to be released later this year. I personally thought it was a shame the myth was proven to be correct (to some extent), as it meant the speculation was over. It was terrible timing when the AVGN film was so closed to completion, but it hasn’t deterred Rolfe from powering through and completing his first big-budget feature film. Indeed, he posted a blog post on the week the cartridges were unearthed discussing how he felt about the excavation and he raises some interesting points.

It has been released in the USA already and has been receiving solid reviews. It looks like it’s aimed directly at his already vast fanbase. For newcomers it might be a little alienating, but staying true to his character is the most important thing here. The effects were something he has poured over and the team have done an excellent job with a comparatively low budget. So much love and care has gone into the film already and I can’t wait for the UK Blu-Ray release early next year [1].

The AVGN Movie is out now to stream from Vimeo via Cinemassacre, the home of AVGN.

[1] I’m a complete snob when it comes to picture quality and resolution. I know how much effort has gone into this film and I’m not about to short-change myself and the filmmakers by streaming over the internet. My connection is so bad (thanks BT!) that I know it would wipe out a whole evening waiting for it to load. I’d rather just wait. In the meantime, I’ve noticed he’s uploaded a new AVGN review (an increasingly rare event). In fact, this one (Tagin’ Dragon) is part of a series of reviews called “The Twelve Days of Shitsmas”, which promises twelve AVGN reviews over the next twelve days. Clocking in at over one hour of running time, Christmas really has come early!