Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Wii finally get our Wii!

After two years of guesswork and a large year of news, Nintendo's revolutionary system finally comes to our shores, and their idea of gameplay and innovation over graphics and cutting-edge technology may win the hearts of non-gamers, but it will surprise hardcore gamers with its enjoyability.

How it Looks - System: Incredible, Graphics: Decent/Good
The system is an interesting design: probably the first assymetric system I've seen. It looks like a square, but with it's back corner pulled down and out. It is the smallest of the next-gen consoles, being a similar size to three DVD cases in height. While Nintendo does plan on making other colours, only White is available at launch, which matches our DS Lites just fine. The look of the controller also mimics the buttons of the DS Lite, but that's more due to the fact that the DS Lite's buttons were made to mimic the Wii.
Graphically, however, is where the Wii is lacking. I'm not going to say that the Wii's graphics look terrible; they're great, but they don't match up to what the PS3 and the Xbox 360 can pump out. There's no option for HD output either, which fits Nintendo's goal of gameplay over graphics.

How it Sounds: Good
The sounds of the game depend on the game and television you're using, but the neat thing about the Wii is the speaker in the Wiimote itself. It was used mainly for effects generated from actions, like punching in Wii Sports: Boxing or slashing in Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, but it added to the experience.

How it Feels: Amazing!!
The big thing about the Nintendo Wii is the controller. Most games us the Wiimote, which looks like a television remote with only a few buttons, and a plug-in adapter known as a nunchuck, with a joystick and two more buttons. Each one fits in one hand very comfortably, so your hands aren't cramped or sore after a long play session. The Wiimote is pretty sensitive, but I've been told that you can change its sensitivity. Each game uses the controllers differently, so there's no true way to say how each game will feel for you. Some use the Wiimote and not the nunchuck, some use the Wiimote sideways, some use them for punching, throwing, etc., and each one feels comfortable. The only problem with this kind of free-moving control is that you must give a lot of space to everybody who's playing. When testing out Wii Sports: Baseball, I was pitching and the other player was batting, and when he swung the Wiimote, it clocked me in the elbow. If anything, it's durable!

How it Plays: Enjoyable
None of the small amount of games I played were frustrating to control. Each one was controlled with simple movements, which were mimicked on screen by what I was controlling very closely. With Super Monkey Ball: Banana Blitz, you control the level, which will tilt based on how the Wiimote is tilted exactly, so a small movement will only tilt it a little bit. In Wii Sports: Boxing, shooting your right hand out with a wide punch will have your boxer do a wide hook on the opposing boxer. This setup of controls allows for variable gameplay for every game made for it. If you want to, it is also able to play any GameCube game you may have, and with the Virtual Console available, you can download games from the Nintendo Vaults, from such systems as the NES, SNES, N64, Sega Genesis and TurboGraphix 16. Add in weather finder, buyable internet browser and photo manager and you have yourself a well-rounded gaming machine the whole family could use. Due note that some of the Virtual Console games require the Classic Controller, which looks like a SNES controller, but with two analog joysticks on it.

Verdict: Buy!
It may not have the prettiest graphics, but it sure as hell a lot of fun to play. The intent of attracting non-gamers to a video game console, and the system's interesting control scheme seem to spell success for Nintendo this time. With a cheaper price point than the Xbox 360 and PS3, it is sure to be a hit this holiday season, and beyond.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Mortal Kombat: Armageddon: More like Deception+

With the end of the latest console generation looming, Midway decides they're going to go out with the perverbial "bang" with their seventh entry into the Mortal Kombat franchise: Armageddon. Unfortunately, it feels more like a toned-down expansion to its predecessor Deception than a full-fledged game.

How it Looks: Mediocre
The game is done in 3D, as every game since Mortal Kombat 4, and while it doesn't look terrible, it's not new: the graphics use a similar engine, if not the same one, as Deception. Most models and almost every animation from Deception are reused here in Armageddon: If a character loses a round on his stomach, he/she/it will get up the same way as every other character. Recycling isn't limited to characters: half of the arenas are from Deception and Deadly Alliances (Deception's predecessor). The remainder are 3D remakes from the series' past: the Subway from MK3 makes a return, complete with trains as deathtraps. So if you're looking for cutting-edge visuals while fighting, look elsewhere. On the plus side though, there is not a single character that looks like another one, one of the problems of sprite-based graphics. For example, Ultimate MK3 had Sub-Zero, Scorpion, Rain, Ermac AND Noob Saibot use the same sprites, just recoloured and called "new." In Armageddon, all of these characters are in the game and look completely different.

How it Sounds: Annoying/Mediocre
The ambient music in the game is about the only good thing about the sound in Armageddon, as it sets the mood of the battle very well. Other than that, you may want to turn off the sound. Every character grunts, shouts, screams, groans, and roars when they attack, get hit, or jump, and none of it is in any sort of recognisable language, and none of it sounds any good. Sound effects are generally unnoticeable, though, and easily blend in with the background music. The only redeeming thing about the sound is the voice acting in the Konquest mode: it actually has some timing between characters talking! In Deception, when one character finished talking and another would start, there would be no pause in between. In Armageddon, it now sounds like a natural conversation between two or more people. The quality is spotty, but at least it isn't terrible to listen to.

How it Feels: Comfortable
The controls haven't changed at all from Deception: Each basic attack is mapped to one of the four face buttons, and combos are easily made by mashing those buttons. Special attacks are easy to pull off, as they take two directional pushes, then a face button. In fact, all the combos and special attacks are viewable during the fight in the pause menu, so no needless memorisation is needed. Blocking is easily executed with R2 (a parry is done by pusing Back and R2, which is a block that stuns the character if timed correctly), throwing R1, and changing fighting styles done with L1. The only qualm I have is that during fights, the arrow buttons and the left analog stick control movement, though during Konquest mode's non-fighting sequences, only the left analog stick moves the player.

How it Plays: Average
One of the main draws of Armageddon is that any player can win a fight at any given time. This is shown with deathtraps in each area: a red line denotes that hitting a player past that line or adjacent to the line (if you can't go past it) with an attack that lifts them off the ground (like an uppercut), that player will die in a gruesome (but sometimes funny) death sequence and you automatically win. This essentially sums up the gameplay in Armageddon: chaotic. While a seasoned veteran of Mortal Kombat will feel right at home with this game, any player has a chance (even if it's a very small one) of winning a fight. Another main draw is the fact that every character that appeared in a Mortal Kombat game is playable: from the famous characters like Sub-Zero and Liu Kang to the very obscure ones like Rain and Meat to the bosses of previous games like Kintaro and even Onaga. Each one has different strengths and weaknesses, but they mostly feel the same, thanks to the Kreate-a-Fatality system introduced. Instead of pulling off a complicated fatality, you imput much simpiler commands to do smaller bits of a fatality chain, then you can end it with ripping out the spine, or crushing their head. If you take too long between imputs the time runs out and you don't get to do a cool ending. The problem with the fighting mode, however, is that it feels exactly the same as Deception, and while that isn't a bad game, it's not fair to ask gamers to shell out 50 bucks for an updated roster an not much new in terms of gameplay. Alternate modes are the Konquest mode, which feels like MK: Shaolin Monks, a 3D beat-em-up game, but with arcade fighting bits; and Motor Kombat, which is Mario Kart with deathtraps and MK characters.

Game Length: 5+ hours (Konquest mode)
All the modes have unlimited playability, with no ending to them. With 62 characters, there are 62 different endings to read (no graphics, just text and a kata being played out), and with both the arcade fighting and Motor Kombat playable online, there is a lot of replayability..... if you don't mind repetitive gameplay.

Verdict: Bargain Bin
Don't get me wrong: the game isn't bad. It isn't the be-all and end-all of fighting games, but it's a nice pick up and play title to get with your friends. However, if you are wanting a strong fighting game, or if you've played and/or owned Deception and are looking for fresh gameplay, look elsewhere.