November 2009

Pokemon Rumble

November 30, 2009

Pokémon Rumble pits hundreds of “toy pokémon” in a battle royale against each other to determine the champion. Each pokémon can learn two moves, mapped to the 1 and 2 buttons (the Classic Controller is also supported). Using only those two moves per ‘mon, you are challenged to clear six stages filled with other ‘mon and one giant boss. The action is real-time, sort of like a side-scrolling beat-’em-up but with a top-down view. 

Some of the enemies you KO will fall down and be added to your team when you pick them up, giving you additional options; the ones that don’t will leave behind cash that is used in the various terminals in the hub worlds to recruit new team members, teach new moves (randomly selected from moves typically available via TM in the games), or whatever. You can also release lower-powered and/or undesired team members for additional cash, and sometimes for surprise bonuses as well. You can switch ‘mon at any point during the stage, although there is a delay as your Wonder Key winds up the replacement. If three of your pokémon faint during a stage, you lose and are kicked back to the hub world (although you do keep anything you had collected up to that point).

You keep clearing stages and acquiring new toy pokémon until you’ve collected one with a power level over the threshold for the current Battle Royale, at which point that gate is opened. Battle Royales are wild timed melees filled with pokémon. Beating enemies here will give you additional time, and eventually you will have to take on the toughest bosses around in order to clear it, claim your reward, and move on to the next level. You can only switch out in a Battle Royale when your current pokémon faints, so make sure you’ve got the right tools for the job here!

At first the game just uses the 151 pokémon of the original Red/Blue/Green/Yellow games (Mew is actually freely available via password from, with Mewtwo obviously being the grand champion. Defeating him will unlock advanced mode, which features pokémon from the current generation (Diamond/Pearl/Platinum). I don’t know if there’s a level beyond that yet, but even if there isn’t I still got my 1500 Wii Points’ worth out of this game. There’s even a free demo available in the Wii Shop if you want to try before you buy (it ends as soon as you qualify for the first Battle Royale).

ESRB: E10 for Mild Cartoon Violence. The usual pokémon cockfighting is a bit more pronounced now that it’s in real-time, but it’s still very abstract.

Pros: Fast-playing action

Cons: No actual leveling up; you simply replace weaker pokémon with stronger ones as you catch them and discard the rest

Plays like: An arcadey beat-’em-up or shooter (bordering on “bullet hell” at times).

Half-Minute Hero

November 30, 2009

Half-Minute Hero is one of the most unique games to come out in quite some time. It takes the concept of a “pick up and play game” and runs with it, with gameplay that is perfectly suited for a handheld. Taking the concept of an RPG and making it well suited for a pick up and play experience seems like something that might be impossible, but developer Opus has done just that.

There are three main modes of play that are unlocked when you first start the game (with some more to unlock as you make progress in the game). The main mode is Hero 30, which casts you as a random hero who has the job of trying to save the world in thirty seconds. This sounds like it is practically impossible, but there is no real motivation or story besides “there is a villain, you are a hero, and you must stop the villain from destroying the world.”

Within the first quest of the game, you meet up with the Time Goddess who will reverse time for you whenever you please (and are willing to pay her the money to do). And once you complete this quest and stop the villain, you learn that the real fiend behind this plot is still alive. With more than 30 different quests in all, you will find yourself with plenty to do in this main mode, especially considering some of these quests lead to branching paths. 

The gameplay is rather simple, and it seems tailored to any gamer, even those who do not consider themselves RPG fans. At the beginning of each quest, you start out at level one, and as you run around the open world you run into random encounters. You continue to fight these monsters, level up, and travel around the map until you are ready to face the final boss of the quest. The battles themselves are played out based on what your level is. There is no real input from the player required, you just watch the battle unfold, and how long it lasts depends on the level of your character.

If you find yourself running low on time, you can go to a nearby town and use one of the several Time Goddess statues to restore time once again. From these towns, you can also buy healing items, equipment (which you keep from quest to quest), and get specific side quests which may lead to rewards that help you in your journey.

At the end of each quest, you are ranked based on how many times you used the Time Goddess statues and just how quickly you were able to “save the world.” There is no real penalty for dying, as you are just brought back to your starting position with only a small bit of health. 

Each quest has specific challenges that might take you a few tries how to figure out. In this regard, Half-Minute Hero can be quite the puzzling experience, especially during some of the later levels. But this challenge is welcome, especially considering that the game overall is not terribly long (but this is no surprise really) and if you decide to sit down and get through the game as quickly as possible, it probably will not take you more than 4-5 hours. But it is meant as a pick up and play title, one you will find yourself playing at 20-30 minutes at a time before moving on to something else.

The other two modes you get from the start are Evil Lord 30 and Princess 30, both of which can be finished pretty quickly. Evil Lord 30 is a quick-paced strategy game where you must defend your castle. Princess 30 plays like a side scrolling shooter. Both modes are fun for a little while, but they leave a lot to be desired and just are not nearly as fun as the main mode of play.

Despite how lackluster the other modes in the game are, Hero 30 is a blast, and the entire game is well worth the price because of it. This is a game that is not meant to be played for long periods of time, but if you do find yourself getting through it quickly, there are harder difficulty modes that could provide quite the challenge. Half-Minute Hero is an incredibly original and truly fun handheld experience that should not be missed by any PSP owners. 

ESRB: Rated E10+ for ages ten and up; rated for animated blood, language, and mild fantasy violence

Pros: The main mode of play, Hero 30, is addictive and challenging

Cons: The other game modes are a lot more shallow than Hero 30

Magnacarta 2

November 29, 2009

In the kingdom of Lanzheim all is not well; after two years of civil war between the usurping Prime Minister and the orphaned Princess, the country is close to collapse. Princess Zelphie seems close to defeat, losing her hereditary throne, when she comes across a young man with no memories who could help her regain everything she has lost. He joins her group of misfits to gain revenge, but ultimately finds himself in the process.

The story of Magnacarta 2 is as clichéd as you get for an Eastern RPG. While it is easy to rag on this one element of the game, it is presented with a commitment to the cookie-cutter characters and the situations they find themselves in so that it ultimately works for this game. The cut scenes prove to be harder to define as the excellent voice acting will have you listening closely, while the static background and comic book delivery of plot will have you skipping through to the next chance to fight.

Luckily, the fighting is one of the best implementations of real-time action caught in any RPG. Similar to Final Fantasy XII’s open field encounters, MC2 takes this action and adds so many interesting elements to make no two battles the same. Controlling one of your party of three, you can bypass enemies in the field or engage them by changing stances. When you do change to the battle stance, you can fight the enemy with standard attacks, build up enough kan to unleash a special attack or meet the correct requirements to perform a signature technique. Each of these in turn uses a set amount of stamina that is constantly being regenerated, and if you use it all up you go in to a temporary overcharge state that gives you more damage but will result in an overheated state where you are temporarily immobile.

As complex as that may sound, it is a brilliant way to approach combat as you are constantly gauging the entire team’s stamina and timing. It is possible to switch between active players on the field creating a chain, driving into multiple overcharge states. If you time it correctly you can enter the chain and swap to a character to complete a special attack resulting in a chain break where the overheat status is wiped clean and all stamina is restored. Risky and worth it, the game ensures that battles are always interesting and fun. 

In addition to each character fighting differently than the other, each character also has two separate styles to choose from based on the weapons they wield. Each style has a corresponding talent tree in which you spend experience you get from leveling and encourages you to stick with one style early on in the game to reap the higher up talents and bonuses. Conveniently, non-active players get 70% of experience gained from the field and 100% of quest experience gained; ensuring less used players aren’t too far behind the pack. 

Despite the over-used plot, Magnacarta 2 uses beautiful visuals and a stunning battle system to draw players into its world such that any 360 RPG fan should be foaming at the mouth to add this to their collection.

ESRB: T for RPG stylized violence

Plays Like: Final Fantasy XII

Pros: Beautiful visuals and engaging combat

Cons: Clichéd story

A Boy and his Blob

November 29, 2009

In 1989, Absolute Entertainment published a bizarre puzzle-platformer called A Boy and His Blob for the NES. It featured a refugee alien blob that could change into a variety of shapes when fed different flavors of jellybeans by his young earth companion. The two would have to utilize the blob’s various functions to bypass obstacles and collect money and additional jellybeans, eventually purchasing some vitamins before blasting off (via a root beer jellybean’s rocket transformation) to the planet Blobbonia, where they must do battle with the evil emperor who had enslaved the peaceful blobs (by firing the vitamins at him after feeding the blob an orange jellybean, turning it into a “Vitablaster”). The game was incredibly difficult, partially due to the limited number of jellybeans available to you; if you wasted the wrong ones or had the blob positioned incorrectly, you might not even be able to finish.

The original A Boy and His Blob was an obscure title at best, but its quirky appeal made an impression on most of the kids who played it. When the announcement came that Wayforward would be creating a new version of the game for the Wii, using hand-drawn animation, those kids — now adults — were treated to a wave of twenty year-old nostalgia.

In addition to the graphical upgrade, the game play received several much-needed tweaks as well. Instead of one large, spanning world (plus Blobbonia) the action has been divided up into over 40 smaller levels spread across four sub-areas; each sub-area has a hub from which you can access any of that world’s levels or freely move to any previous world. Each level allows you only a specific subset of jellybeans, ranging from one to twelve flavors of the fifteen present in the game; you have an unlimited number of these jellybeans at your disposal, allowing you more freedom for experimentation and error. 

On the subject of “error,” you also have unlimited lives and the game’s checkpoints are generous; this is fortunate, as you will die frequently, especially in the second half of the game and during one of the handful of boss fights. The boy is very fragile, falling to even a single touch of one of the enemies or several hazards (including water and falls above a certain height unless cushioned by one of the blob’s softer transformations). He is also frustratingly immobile; he moves at only one speed (which is slow), has little jumping ability, and cannot duck. If it weren’t for his nearly pin-point accurate jellybean throwing ability (holding down the B button shows your trajectory, which you can adjust like a pool simulator), he would basically be useless.

Not that the blob (who was named Blobbert in the original game; I don’t think he really has a name this time, nor does the boy) is much better. Although he is somehow immune to any damage, he moves on his own and as such isn’t under your direct control. As a result, he will sometimes get himself stuck in awkward places. You can steer him a bit with well-placed jellybeans (which he will seek out if he can) or use the C button to call him to your side; the call button is also used to return the blob to his usual amorphous form, which is the only way to get him to assume a new one. If you ever get too separated, you can throw him a balloon jellybean, which will allow him to catch up (and serves no other function; you always have berry as one of your flavors on every level); if you can’t reach him with a jellybean, calling him three times in succession will cause him to transform into a balloon on his own. 

Unlike the original title, the game never tells you what flavors of jellybeans you’re using to trigger transformations. A few are legacies from the original game (licorice = ladder, apple = jack, tangerine = trampoline, root beer = rocket, cola = bubble, coconut = coconut), and a few new ones are mentioned in the manual (pear = parachute, bubblegum = bouncer, berry = balloon, banana = anvil), but others (cannon, shield, and two final transformations I don’t want to spoil) have absolutely no indication — heck, there are two different flavors listed for the cannon transformation on official sources (the box says cream, the website says caramel; given the color of the bean in the game, I believe the box). In fact, there is no text in the game at all, nor is there a tutorial like you would expect from most games. There are occasionally billboards with hints drawn on them, but that’s all the help you get.

The cartoon-like presentation of the game, coupled with the complete lack of any in-game text, may lead you to believe that the game is a walk in the park, and for the first fifteen levels or so this will be the case. The difficulty ramps up starting with the second boss fight, however, and a lot of frustration will set in by the time you reach the third. The game’s demands simply can’t always keep up with the limitations of the controls (and in the case of the third boss, some hit detection issues as well) and you will die cheaply and repeatedly. The final few levels make up for this somewhat by being epically awesome (entirely due to the last transformation), but getting to that point is quite the chore, especially given the somewhat plodding pace of “level – hub – level”.

If you can overcome the game’s limitations, you should get a fair amount of enjoyment out of A Boy and His Blob. If you’re especially hardcore, you can even seek out the three treasure chests hidden in each level; finding all three will unlock an additional challenge stage, effectively doubling the game play value. Each challenge stage you clear will unlock various special features like art galleries and development notes. The game is already bargain-priced at $40, which messes with our rating system a bit; ultimately it’s worth a look if you want a different experience on the Wii, but not anything I’d go out of my way to pick up right away.

ESRB Rating: E for mild cartoon violence; your primary method of dispatching enemies is to drop rocks or anvils on them, or else using the hole transformation to drop them into pits.

Plays like
: Other than the original, the level-based puzzle-platforming reminded me of Zack and Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’s Treasure

Pros: Gorgeous presentation, classic nostalgia, and quite possibly the first game ever to feature a “hug” button.

Cons: Maneuverability issues cause too much frustration

It is always nice to see a good side scrolling action game every now and again. In the case of the latest release in the Dragon Ball series, Revenge of King Piccolo is not a good side scroller. It is as generic as they come, and it feels like it belongs on one of the older Nintendo systems, not on the Wii. 

The game’s story follows a young Goku throughout the entire Dragon Ball series as he is on the hunt for the legendary Dragon Balls. If you are a fan of the series, you will note that the game does follow the series close enough, despite how much it skips around. If you are not a fan of the series, you will most likely be incredibly lost. 

In terms of the presentation, the game is a mixed bag. All of the voice actors from the original English dub of the anime reprise their roles, and the voice acting is generally good. The game has the same anime style cell shading you would expect from any other game in the series, but at this point it just does not hold up to more recent releases. The game looks like it belongs on the PS2, and with very repetitive and annoying music that does not represent the stuff you would hear in the anime. And let’s not forget the “cutscenes” that feature just cutouts of the characters, which are generally very static and do not tell the story at all.

The gameplay itself is rather tedious, and is a very basic brawler. You move from left to right beating up on the very similar looking enemies, and every once in a while you face a boss. The bosses do not require much strategy at all, and they all can be taken down rather quickly once you figure out their very basic pattern. On the plus side, the controls are easy enough for anyone to get into, so the game could be enjoyed by much younger audiences. 

The game progresses through six different levels that are each divided into smaller sections, and due to a lack of challenge it does not take long to get through a chapter. The entire game might take you 5-6 hours top to finish, and that is not much considering it is covering practically the entire anime. But with the gameplay designed as bland as it is, you might be thankful the game is not any longer.

You get a select set of combos (and a special move, which for Goku is his signature Kamehameha Wave), but none of them make much of a difference in the end. The enemies all are practically the same, and there is little to no strategy involved in most of the combat (with both bosses and regular enemies). 

The game does feature a tournament mode, which uses the same basic controls from the adventure mode but applied to a fighting game style. The controls and combat seems to suit this mode more so than the standard side scrolling beat ‘em up found in the main story mode. Sadly, with a very slim picking of characters and not much else to do in the mode, it will not hold your attention for too long. 

Dragon Ball: Revenge of King Piccolo feels like a game that is stuck in a completely different era. It plays like an old school beat ‘em up, but at the same time, we’ve come to expect more from our games, especially one that is at full retail price. This might be an enjoyable rental for a young one to pass the time with, but overall this is a game that even Dragon Ball fans will have a hard time enjoying. 

ESRB: Rated E10+ for ages ten and up; rated for some cartoon violence and mild language

: Follows the Dragonball story pretty closely; good voice acting; simple controls make it easy for anyone to play; tournament mode can be fun

Cons: Boring, static cutscenes; repetitive and tedious gameplay; the game looks pretty dated; annoying music; very sparse on content