Saturday, March 23, 2013

Level Up: Mario & Luigi: Superstar Saga

When I reviewed Super Mario RPG, I mentioned that it was one of the most demanded games to be ported onto the Game Boy Advance. However, with the relationship Nintendo had with Square at the time, it was clear that probably wasn’t going to happen. The demand for a Mario RPG on the GBA was obviously too great for Nintendo to ignore though, so they made a new Mario RPG series specifically for their hand held systems. What we got was Mario & Luigi: SuperStar Saga for the Game Boy Advance.
The game begins at Princess Peach’s castle, where we see that she is meeting with the ambassador of the neighboring Bean Bean Kingdom. However, the ambassador reveals herself to actually be a witch named Cackletta and steals Peach’s voice. Mario is immediately contacted and rushes over to the castle, dragging Luigi along (literally). Once they get there, they see it’s too late, as Cackletta and her sidekick Fawful have escaped already. Oddly enough, it’s Bowser that restores hope, as he shows up to kidnap Princess Peach, but realizes there’s no point without her voice. He enlists the help of the Mario brothers as they take off in his battle ship. However, when they come close to getting the Princess’ voice back, Mario, Luigi and Bowser are knocked from the sky. The two brothers wake up and find that they are at the Bean Bean Kingdom boarder and have no choice but to explore this strange land.
The story is just solid fun. It’s light hearted and classic (Mario saves Peach), but with enough new elements to make it original (like the new villain and the new setting). There is also a weird sense of humor that is carried throughout the game (which is probably hyperbolized through Fawful). It is really impressive when you can make a rather odd game, but still make the story play out in a really smart way. There’s a plot twist about half way that I just didn’t see coming and completely turns the tables. You will want to help the brothers out just to see what happens next.
The fact that this is Mario & LUIGI is a really big deal: Luigi had not been playable in a Mario adventure for a long time, probably not since Super Mario World. As a matter of fact, this might be one of the few times where it’s actually necessary to play as him in a game that has his brother. It seems Nintendo (or possibly developers Alpha-dream) knew they had to make this part of the game play, and they managed to integrate it rather well. Mario and Luigi follow each other around and you can switch up who is the “leader”. This is important, because each brother can use a combination of jump, hammer and “hand power” skills that will change depending on who is leading. For example, if Mario is leading, Luigi can jump on him to give the two brothers an extra high jump, but if Luigi is leading, Mario can do a spin jump to allow the brother to fly over gaps. These techniques are also used in the game’s battle system as “bros. attacks”, but if one of the brothers is knocked out, you can’t use them anymore.
Learning when you should use these skills on the map is important, as the map is not linear. I resist calling it Metroidvania style, since you could almost stretch it so most RPGs, but it gives off that impression. The map is mostly open to you (though there are moments where places only open after cut scenes) and the only thing preventing you from accessing everything is the fact that you need every skill. There are several parts in the game that make use of areas you’ve already visited, but since you can use a new skill on the map, you’ll find whole new area there. Granted, the game tells you where you need to go most of the time, but it’s well thought out when compared to games where you visit an area once and never need to go there again.
Mario & Luigi: SuperStar Saga might not be as great as Super Mario RPG, but it might be better because of that. What I mean is, while Super Mario RPG is a great game and I would have liked more people to experience it with a GBA rerelease, this first Mario & Luigi game is not only a great NEW experience, but also started off a pretty solid side series (with a 4th installment, Mario & Luigi: Dream Team, coming out this summer).  It also makes great use of timed hits and defensive moves (which I explained a bit during the Partners in Time review) and the graphics style of the game is so good that some online communities pretty much re-sprited the whole Mario universe in this style (it looks simply amazing for the GBA). What else can I say but the story is fun, the game play works from every angle and it’s just a high quality game. I give Mario & Luigi: SuperStar Saga for the Game Boy Advance 10 level out of 10.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Level Up: Chop Chop Caveman & Dino Cap 2

If you would have told me ten years ago that paying to download games with no physical copy of them would become a common thing I… would have believed you. At the time, I was playing Flash games online, downloading free games from sites and even trying to make my own. However, if you would have told me that phones would be recognized as a gaming platform, to the point where one is sitting on GameFAQs’s quick search bar, that’s where I would have drawn the line. How would I have known they’d eventually be accessible enough to allow people to easily play games on them? So I thought today I’d talk to you about some of the games I’ve played on my phone that revolve around dinosaurs. Why dinosaurs? Why not? Let’s start with Chop Chop Caveman available for the Android, but I’ll be playing it on the iPhone (also compatible with iPad and Ipod Touch, but not all generation and blah blah blah. Just check the iTunes store for each iPhone game I talk about to see if you can play it).
I’ll be honest here and just start by saying I think Gamerizon ripped off of the Wario Land games for Chop Chop Caveman (though, it’s more linear). The similarities start off at the premise: you play as a gluttonous and greedy man who scours the land looking to satisfy his selfish desires. Once we get to the game play, the similarities continue, as the controls start out with your basic run and jump stuff, but the main attack is to charge forward and if you’re in the air, you can do a ground pound. There are even points where you’ll need to pick up objects and throw them in order to advance.
However, the physics and in game style are different. Wario Land is more about exploration, whereas Chop Chop Caveman has more to do with just platforming. This also affects the physics of the game and makes it feel more loose and free: the distances you jump and run are sometimes astounding. This might a bit too loose though, because as much fun it is to go through a stage as fast as possible, it sometimes gets weird when trying to be precise or a piece of meat you’ll need to gain health can go flying. Still works within its own world, but a small bit of tightening up could have improved this.
Our next mobile dino game is by a company named Trinity Interactive. I’ve downloaded quite a few titles from this company, mostly because they have a selection of free games that are simple beat-em-ups or platformers. Today’s game is no exception: Dino Cap 2. You play in a world that is overrun by dinosaurs (and eventually cyborg dinosaurs) where you have a selection of missions. They’re mostly standards, such as run a certain distance, survive a certain amount of time or kill a certain number of dinosaurs, but they are pretty well executed and shouldn’t cause trouble if you’re well stocked. You’ll also get money in this game so that you can upgrade your weapons or buy ammo.
However, upgrading your weapons seems to have very little impact on the game, but you’ll do it anyways as this game has little to offer otherwise. Again, the missions are all pretty similar and it can get a tiresome (especially since there’s an achievement for doing 500 missions). This game is also just set on a 2D plane, so the game play can become really mindless very quickly as dinos can only come from one of 2 directions. Not to say this game is easy, but rather there’s not enough variety in the core game mechanic.
Chop-Chop Caveman and Dino Cap 2 are two games that each have a flaw that prevent them from being great games. Again, Dino Cap 2’s problem is a sever lack of variety that boarders on monotony. Chop-Chop Caveman’s problem is that it is simply too short; the levels are big, but don’t feel like they offer enough, so it seems like it’s over rather quickly (especially considering your speed). However, since this is a downloadable game, it’s likely that there will be more levels added later on to fix this (they have before). Dino Cap 2’s problem is so ingrained in its game play that it would be hard to fix: they’ve added a character in the past, but it still leaves you doing the same thing. While Chop-Chop Caveman is a really good game whose only problem is “I want more from it”, Dino Cap 2 is fun but easy to get tired of. I give Chop-Chop Caveman 8 levels and Dino Cap 2 6.5 levels out of 10.