Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker Wii U Review

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Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Nintendo EAD Tokyo Group No.2, 1-Up Studio
Platform Reviewed: Wii U
Release date: 03/01/2015

From the moment the announcement was made that we would have a game dedicated to the charismatic little fellow, I was eager to give Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker a go. For me, the Toad levels were one of the highlights of Super Mario 3D World and proved to be a welcome and satisfying change of pace. Charming and delightful perspective puzzles, where the goal was to navigate small maze-like arenas in search of an increasingly elusive star. Setting out to plunder the Mushroom Kingdom, Toad is accompanied by Toadette. The game is their relentless pursuit of treasure, but is there enough on offer to warrant a full release for the likeable duo?

The first thing to strike you is just how beautiful the world looks. Just like a Pixar movie, each character model feels solid and saturated in colour. Personality oozes from every screen with such whimsical charm. Every asset is perfectly placed and it is an absolute pleasure to explore every level, which is something you will be doing a lot of.

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As previously mentioned, the objective is to navigate the many pitfalls and traps of each level in order to reach the star, but there is more to it than that. In order to progress past certain chapters, a set amount of gems need to be found, there are a maximum of three in each stage and it can prove quite tricky to find them all, particularly later on. You will often find yourself re-visiting stages just to collect these gems. There are also challenges specific to each level, whether it is to complete a stage completely unseen or unscathed or to collect a set amount of coins, they can be quite imaginative and very tricky, especially as you progress.

Understanding the layout of each given stage is a must and either by moving the right control stick or using the gyro inside the Wii U pad the camera can be moved in almost any direction. The movements are smooth and effortless and the camera glides and swoops with relative ease. It’s not perfect however, not being able to disable the gyro can cause sudden camera movements if you move the pad abruptly. It’s a shame, but due to the fact the gyro is needed for certain levels it is somewhat understandable.

WiiU_CaptainToad_101014_SCRN01All the charm and bright colours would be a loss if the level design wasn’t up to the job and thankfully Nintendo have excelled themselves once again. Whilst most of the stages are relatively short, the attention to detail and the sheer amount of variation on offer is quite staggering. From haunted castles to infested gardens, runaway mine cars to caves flooded with lava, the Mushroom Kingdom is well represented with all its wonderful diverse landscapes.

The Wii U controller’s features have been well implemented without feeling overused. Whether you’re tapping the screen to move blocks or freeze enemies, blowing on the mic to raise platforms, or spinning around the room whilst aiming from cannons. The arrangement of the levels means it never feels like a gimmick and it is an excellent way of making each challenge feel fresh.

Some familiar power-ups also make a welcome appearance, for some unexplained reason, Toad has lost his ability to jump and our heroes will need some help if they are to pillage the land successfully. The ever present mushroom is on offer for those who have been shrunk due to taking damage, the old two hits and your dead mechanic is alive and well. There is a mighty pickaxe – for when the need to smash blocks becomes absolutely necessary. My personal favourite is the double cherry, which duplicates whoever collects it. The goal here is to navigate the maze whilst controlling multiple incarnations to reach a platform which is only activated when a set amount of characters are standing upon it.

WiiU_CaptainToad_101014_SCRN36Like the perfect guest, Toad does not outstay his welcome. With 64 levels and some bonus ones for those who may have a save file of Super Mario 3D world on their Wii U, there is just enough content on offer to hold your interest. It will take roughly six hours from start to finish, more if you collect every item and pass every challenge, and this feels long enough. The difficulty has been perfectly paced and despite a few moments of frustration, there is genuine satisfaction to be had, especially when you reach that gem that first looked impossible.

Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker is another example of why Nintendo, when they get it right, have that certain something, an X-factor, which makes their games feel special. Creative level design, confident and bold presentation, wonderful composition and familiar much-loved characters are all handled with such care and expertise that is difficult not be charmed by them. Whilst the price point maybe a little too high and the main menu is a little drab there is still plenty of the magic here that makes Toad a welcome addition to anyone’s collection.

 

Score: 9/10

 

Reviewer: Ian 

 

Get A Free Nintendo Game When Registering Selected Products

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Every year, Nintendo runs a promotion where you can pick up a free game when you register selected Nintendo products. The offer has now returned, full details of which can be found below. If you have an unregistered 3ds or 2DS console laying around, it may well be worth a try to see if you can bag a free game!

Also, don’t forget you can get cheap Nintendo eStore credit using our deals | Get £25 credit for £22.31 here | Get £15 credit for £13.29 here

Taken from Nintendo Website

11th September 2014 – With the winter season on its way, Nintendo has today announced a new promotion for Nintendo 3DS and 2DS systems, the Nintendo 3DS Winter 2014 Bonus Game Promotion, which is sure to appeal to users looking to expand their game collection in preparation for the colder months!

To take part in the Nintendo 3DS Winter 2014 Bonus Game Promotion, participants simply need to do both of the following:

  • Register a Nintendo 2DS, Nintendo 3DS or Nintendo 3DS XL system with Club Nintendo between 11th September 2014 and 12th January 2015 (23:59 local time); and…
  • Register a copy of Super Smash Bros. for Nintendo 3DS (releasing 3rd October ), Pokémon Omega Ruby or Pokémon Alpha Sapphire (both releasing 28th November) with Club Nintendo between 3rd October 2014 and 12th January 2015 (23:59 local time), and fill out the software registration survey – a required action if the copy of the game is purchased at retail.

In return, participants can request a free download code to download one of the following games from Nintendo eShop:

The free download code can be requested via a user’s Club Nintendo account, with the download code request needing to be completed by 12th February 2015 (23:59 local time). The download code will expire on 12th March 2015 (23:59 local time), and therefore will need to be redeemed by this time. Please note that Club Nintendo members whose age is below the age rating of a game cannot request a download code for that game.

Shovel Knight Review

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Rest assured, if there was any part of my body that even remotely disliked Shovel Knight I would have ran with that just for the excuse of writing “Shovel Knight? More like ShovelWARE!” (Un)fortunately Yacht Club Games have opted to strip me of that minute amount of fun to instead offer a whole bucket-load more of fun within the actual game. Shovel Knight is not just an enjoyable product in of itself, but it’s turned out to be one of the most encouraging projects in recent memory and a candidate for Game of the Year 2014.

Shovel Knight comes to us from former WayForward Technologies developer Sean Velasco, who presumably left WayForward because he wanted to make games with fantastic audiovisual design AND have some actual game design in it (lol).  He claims to have been inspired by games such as Castlevania III, DuckTales and Mega Man; and in the current climate of popularised nostalgia baiting this can be where the eye-rolling begins. Often when developers start listing off old NES games as inspiration, and they seem to be mostly highly popular titles, it can translate into “my entire research for this project was the games I just happened to own when I was 8 years old.” However, the fastest way to sum up everything good about Shovel Knight is it takes all the great ideas and common sense of old Japanese developed NES games, brushes off the few scraps of dirt and presents in a lovingly polished fashion bursting with its own personality.

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Let’s do the mandatory Shovel Knight review thing and unfairly break the game down into its individual parts and which NES game inspired them so everyone gets a vague idea of what they’re in for. The graphics deliberately emulate the NES (although your Nintendo would probably explode if you somehow figured out a way to play this on one), the music actually can be played on an NES and so is 100% authentic chiptune music. You play as the Shovel Knight, who can swish his shovel as a close range weapon (Castlevania) and bounce off enemies with a down thrust like he’s riding a pogo stick (DuckTales); you have to fight a renegade group of Knights in a non-linear order to reach the final castle stages (Mega Man) to defeat the evil Enchantress who has enslaved the land (Castlevania again). As you navigate the map screen (Super Mario Bros. 3)you can visit towns to buy upgrades for your health, magic , armour and Shovel (Zelda II) as well as bumping into bonus “traveller” bosses and treasure gathering extra stages (Mario 3/Bionic Commando?)

As for the actual stages themselves, Mega Man was definitely the core inspiration in terms of the game’s single room puzzle-esque level design and style of boss battles, but here’s where constantly comparing Shovel Knight to its NES counterparts misses the point. It’s easy to comment on certain similarities between Shovel Knight and an entire memory stick duo of NES games, but ultimately I’d argue the main inspiration for the game was common sense.

Here’s an example of that; the stages in Shovel Knight are significantly longer than the average NES stage, so all of them have a whole bunch of visually clear checkpoints. When you die, you get knocked back to the last checkpoint (usually no more than half a dozen screens, and probably not even that) and take a hit to the wallet as bags of your money will dangle tauntingly above where you died, if you can get back to where you died without dying again you can get all that money back and there’s no problem as there’s no lives system at all. In addition, you can break the checkpoints to get a nice treasure boost, but obviously now you’ve lost that checkpoint so you better make sure you don’t screw up getting to the next one here.

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So what we have here is a forgiving checkpoint system that lets the less savvy player get through the game without booting them out of the stage for a couple of mistakes, that also offers motivation for the player to not die twice on one section as they’ll lose their treasure (which also encourages players to spend their treasure and engage with the game’s RPG elements regularly)…and it has an extra challenge built in there for the hardcore crowd without having to change a thing. Wow! That’s really smart! It kind of blew my mind how smart such a little feature is; it completely nullifies the frustrations that came with the lives system from the old Mega Mans, with its “throw yourself down a pit twice to restart with 3 lives” nonsense,without requiring any kind of difficulty adjustment.  I’ve always had low tolerance for games that still relied on lives systems in this era of gaming anyway but now there is literally no excuse for it. The way Shovel Knight handles it is just smarter, and that is so refreshing.

However, the true shining part of Shovel Knight is in the boss battles, which in all honesty, might be the greatest boss battles in any 2D action game. They certainly put anything in classic Mega Man to shame, and those Mega Man X bosses over there aren’t feeling too sure of themselves either. The vast majority of the bosses are against another knight or warrior with their own gimmick, as well the Black Knight who also uses a shovel effectively making him a shadow boss. Speaking of which, here’s a good test for action games, if your game has a shadow boss in it and it’s fun, then chances are your mechanics are pretty much ready to go. Boss battles in Shovel Knight do follow patterns to some extent but it definitely doesn’t feel like that most of the time. Fights against enemies like the King’s Knight almost feel like you’re playing against a second player. These fights are fast and furious, bosses don’t get stunned for too long so skilled players will be able to exchange down thrusts, side slashes and magic to get some “combos” going; but the subtlest touch that makes it near perfect is you don’t take damage from a bosses attack if you’re able to get a strike in first. This tiny little detail translates what in most games is a choreographed dance in pattern avoidance to an actual fight in your brain, if you “outwit” your opponent and get that first slash then as far as the game is concerned you deserve to be winning. It creates really challenging and engaging battles whilst at the same game communicating (through gameplay!) that the Shovel Knight is on par with these guys and is a mighty warrior in his own right.

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Before I briefly touch on things I didn’t like so much in the game, let’s just dedicate a small paragraph to the ridiculously fantastic soundtrack Shovel Knight has, which comes to us from Jake “virt” Kaufman with two tracks done by Mega Man 1 composer Manami Matsumae. Let’s just shovel this in here; because everyone will probably be saying this in five years and I want it on record, Jake Kaufman is the best Western videogame composer working today. He’s also possibly clinically insane, since he’s provided full lossless audio downloads of both the official Shovel Knight soundtrack and an arrangement album on his Bandcamp so you should probably check that out.

So regarding what I don’t like…there’s just kind of too much stuff which contradicts the simplistic nature of the mechanics and level design. You can explore the levels by breaking blocks to reveal hidden pathways and passages where you can find extra treasure and usable items. Treasure is predominately used for buying upgrades, but it’s not difficult at all to find enough treasure to max out the really useful things like shovel abilities and magic points. Other than that you just have items and armour upgrades, and in the case of armour I pretty much just bought them all for the sake of buying something and then only ever used one of them. There’s just too much of this stuff for a game this short, half of the weapons I used once to see what they do and then never picked them up again. Then on top of that there’s potions you can use, but to do that you have to buy a chalice, then you have to go to the lake and talk to apple fish king thing (don’t worry about it) who does a nice song and dance for about 2 minutes to give you a one use potion (things like invincibility and health etc.). But because it’s one use only you just end up putting off using it forever and accidentally beat the game with it sitting in your lap, it’s just a load of fluff for something basically pointless.

It’s not a massive issue or anything, but the problem is the game focuses a lot on the act of gathering treasure (note the paragraph earlier about losing treasure being used instead of a lives system) as its inspiration for exploring levels and completing extra stages on the map, so it feels like all this extra stuff is just there to justify having so much treasure in the game in the first place. The game could have used a bit more balancing in how you buy new magic and how you spend your treasure, because honestly by the end of my playthrough I started not caring about treasure at all when I realised I already had everything worth having and that made me far lazier in terms of exploring the levels.

Also, the level design is consistently tight throughout the game with every stage having its own bag of tricks that stays consistent with the game’s mechanics and basic rules, but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t weaken towards the end. The final castle stages, probably in an attempt to be more “challenging” start relying less on clever tightly designed rooms and more on gimmicky instadeath traps that punish you for the slightest mistake. The worst part is the room where the walls move up and down, crushing you if a pixel of your shovelly body is caught under it. I died on this part about 50 billion times, initially out of sheer carelessness but eventually just out of boredom-fuelled impatience.

These are all little niggles, but Shovel Knight definitely needed to be a little more tight in its extra bits to be a true classic, but nothing mentioned above stops it from being a fantastic videogame. The soundtrack and the pixel art come from a place of artistic confidence and not just nostalgic baiting, the level design is fuelled predominately by common sense and everything is presented with a lot of care and love and a cute little story which ends the experience with a satisfied sigh. Yacht Club Games have proven themselves with Shovel Knight and the industry should look forward to their future projects.

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In closing; in the opening paragraph I described Shovel Knight as “one of the most encouraging projects in recent memory” and I’d like to end this review by clarifying that. Shovel Knight is encouraging in both its style of design and the future of the videogame industry in general. A bunch of cool people who knew what they were doing got together and had a great idea for a game, they pitched that idea to the public through Kickstarter who liked it and supported it. This gave them a comfortable budget to work with for the kind of the game they wanted to make, but not requiring 10s of millions of corporate dollars in an unsustainable five year developmental cycle. The product of this is a wonderful little game that the developers can be proud of and that players can love. We need more games like Shovel Knight, and you dear reader, need Shovel Knight in your Steam library.

The pressure’s on you now, Mighty No. 9,Inafune and his team better up their game to follow this.

Score:8/10

Developer: Yacht Club Games

Publisher: Yacht Club Games 

Platform: Steam, Wii U and 3DS in North America, other platforms to follow

Mario Kart 8 Review

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Publisher: Nintendo Developer: Nintendo

Platform: Wii U

Nintendo’s financial woes and marketing failure of the Wii U have been well documented, but at time of writing the console has received a 666% sales boost because of the release of Mario Kart 8! Some might say that Nintendo turned to the Devil for this turnaround, the same Devil that allows you get hit by three red shells just before you cross the finish line. Fortunately, this is the kind of jerky review that points out that 666 is not the original number of the Devil and it’s actually 616, so you can rest assured that the Wii U you bought (probably this week) is not evil. The point is; a lot more people have a Wii U now because of this game, and they would all feel pretty stupid if Mario Kart 8 had come out and sucked.

Well it’s a good thing it doesn’t suck then! For the initiated, it’s another Mario Kart, and that’s probably all you need to know. Only this time there’s mostly gimmicky but still exciting anti-gravity tracks in it that twist the tracks around and let you drive up walls and stuff. It also feels great, it runs at 60 frames per second in 1080p, the weapons have been rebalanced a bit, they brought back the coins system so the game can punish for getting hit without taking your weapon away which really sucked in Mario Kart Wii. The online matchmaking is a little thin, and you’ll probably end up watching another race for a few minutes before you actually get to play one, but when you actually get into a race it runs smooth and good times will follow. It also still has Moo Moo Meadows in it, yea I bet you love Moo Moo Meadows you sick freak.

MK8_201402_04So that’s you guys covered, if you already like Mario Kart and have a Wii U there’s nothing anyone can say to stop you buying Mario Kart 8 even if it did suck. You can close this tab right now and go play your videogame and have a gay ol’ time.

Are they gone? Alright, by now I should be left with the slightly less hardcore Nintendo fans who might actually be interested in what someone has to say about Mario Kart 8. If you’re still reading this I’d guess you own at least one book and probably go no longer than three months between haircuts. While we’re all here, let’s talk about the philosophy behind Mario Kart for a little bit.

Mario Kart is a game that punishes you for succeeding at it and rewards you for failing. Say what you will, but rocking a track on Mario Kart 8 in 1st place for the majority of the time will reward you with no action happening on the screen and item boxes will only give you bananas and coins and other boring stuff that makes you wish you had just got nothing at all. Meanwhile, at the back of the pack all the noobs will be crashing into each other, getting Bullet Bill pickups and Golden Mushrooms and other such goodies.

The nature of the items that you get while near the back of the pack have always intrigued me. Of course there’s the infamous Blue Shell, which will crash along the track and unavoidably explode the player in first place. And there’s the one that really gets me, the lightning cloud that shrinks and slows down every other racer on the track. The ideas behind this seem to be that if you suck at the game or aren’t doing well then the best way for the game to make up for this is to allow you the opportunity to screw over as many of the other players as possible. If this isn’t making you cringe yet, I’ll add that this is the exact sort of design philosophy that made them put tripping into Super Smash Bros. Brawl.

MK8_201402_01The theory seems to be that Mario Kart 8 always expects a specific amount of fun to be had, but this fun is constantly divided up and split between the players regardless of skill or how much they actually care. Trailing along at 10-12th place the entire time is no fun at all for a lot of people, so Nintendo’s solution is to build a game where the person in last place is always in a position where they can irritate the person in first place. What Nintendo want to happen is have a game where the entire pack of players are constantly changing position or “rubber-banding”, so most players will get the thrill of being in first place and being under pressure as well as experiencing the chase from the back of the pack. It’s not necessarily a terrible idea, but it undermines any sense of finesse or skill that could be applied to Mario Kart 8, and whenever you do that in a videogame it’s particularly guaranteed to lead to frustration every now and then.

Just in case you’re confused, I just wasted three paragraphs and potentially a couple of minutes of your life explaining that Mario Kart 8 is a party game and not a competitive one. Specifically the kind of party game that feels like it would be too much of a shame for anyone to be left out. Not that I want to start sounding like some socialism-fearing American right-winger, but when you start spreading the fun in this fashion you put a limit on the fun that one individual can have.

For example, when I’m running through the single player Grand Prix events to unlock stuff and learn the tracks, I can’t help but be annoyed that I have to perfect all the events on 50cc as well. Gosh darn it Nintendo, it’s Mario Kart 8, and you already suckered all the newbies in with motion controls on the Wii version, stop making everyone play on 50cc. I basically have to do it first because jumping straight to 100cc or 150cc first then ducking to the slower mode would feel so gross I’d probably puke all over my nice new gamepad screen. At least this would probably set off the touch screen horn so there would be a comedy sound effect to accompany it.

MK8_201402_02A lot of people will defend Mario Kart 8 for a lot of the things I’ve been talking about. They are after all, definitely deliberate choices on Nintendo’s part and not just bad (and absolutely not lazy) design. Mario Kart 8 is multiplayer focused, and getting screwed over by a red shell seconds before you win is great banter for a party situation with friends. But then again, it still happens when you’re playing the game stag and are being expected to get 1st place on every course for full completion…and in this context it’s just frustrating.

Don’t take this review as a dismissal of Mario Kart 8 or anything other than a recommendation. It’ll need more time to settle into my system, but in all honesty this could be my personal favourite Mario Kart yet; it is a perfectly polished piece of entertainment that knows its target audience and caters to it. I just can’t shake the feeling that I could be having more fun with it than I am, and so could a lot more of its hardcore followers. A lot of Nintendo products are being harmed by their pre-tense to create something that grandma and your little cousin who chews the wallpaper can play with you…when the vast majority of Mario Kart 8’s players just want to play a great racing game with their friends.

I wouldn’t worry about it though, it’s still got Moo Moo Meadows so every thing’s cool.

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