Tag Archives: wiiu

FGC #253 Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

Monkey NoisesVideogames can do a few things better than any other medium, and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze does one of those things perfectly.

DKC:TF is a pretty straightforward platforming adventure. Donkey Kong was just donkeying around, enjoying his birthday with the members of his family that he remembered exist this week (sorry, Lanky Kong), when a group of malevolent penguins invaded his home. With the helpful flippers of some Viking walruses, Donkey and pals were escorted far from Donkey Kong Country, and banished to an even five islands away from home base. Donkey, Diddy, Dixie, and even Cranky now must fight their way back to their tropical island, and there’s only an army of owls, deadly pits, and other assorted nonsense to repel the apes. At least there are a few frozen bananas to nab along the way.

And, so I can pretend I maintain a proper gaming review blog, I’ll note the experience does play like a dream. The DKC series may handle like Super Mario Bros. on a fundamental level, but the big guy always feels completely different than his plumbing rival. Recent Donkey Kong Country games dial that “heavy inertia” feeling from the original Rare games up to eleven, and, If you’re doing your best hedgehog impression and always moving as fast as possible, it’s very easy to experience a “rollercoaster” feeling. Yes, you have full control of everyone’s favorite gorilla, but there’s that unmistakable feeling that you can’t slow down, that you’ve gotta go fast, and you’re just doing your best to steer this barreling freight train as best you can. Mind you, that metaphor becomes a bit more superliminal on the actually-a-rollercoaster minecart levels, but that feeling persists through the rest of the game. And, if you don’t like it, don’t worry, you can still take it slow, too. Well, on most stages. I wouldn’t slow down when you’re attempting to outrun a lava flow.

But that’s all auxiliary to the best event in the game (and possibly the franchise). After five “worlds” of random island hijinks, the final (well, final-not-secret) world is… Donkey Kong Country.

THIS IS EVERYTHING

You’re finally home! Hooray! … Except, yes, the Snowmads have conquered the tropical paradise, and turned it into a frozen stronghold. So DK and pals must fight from DK home up to the tippy top of Big Crazy Volcano… which is the premise of the previous game, Donkey Kong Country Returns. The final world of Donkey Kong Country Tropical freeze is Donkey Kong Country Returns.

And I love seeing this kind of thing in a videogame.

Other noisesEven if nobody noticed, this got its start back in The Legend of Zelda 2: The Adventure of Link. If you hang out on the south-western “Death Mountain” region of the map, you’ll note the bottom section of the peninsula is actually the entirety of the overworld from The Legend of Zelda (1). In one instant, that simple plot of 8-bit pixels completely recontextualizes Link’s entire adventure, and, wow, did you see that? This new game is, like, 800 times larger than the old one! Oh man, how is Link going to survive his biggest adventure ever!?

(And, for the record, I feel like every Zelda after Ocarina of Time has failed for using the same basic layout as OoT [and arguably A Link to the Past]. It’s not exciting to find Death Mountain in the North or Gerudo Desert in the West, I want to see what’s past those landmarks. C’est la vie.)

But this same trick has been used in a variety of games for a variety of reasons. In Metroid Prime, a frigate is explored early in the adventure, and then, after it crashes to the planet below, it becomes a sunken “ghost ship” that is an entirely new “level”, but is still recognizable from its earlier appearance. Speaking of Metroid, you see this often in “prequel” games, where an important location from the “next” game is revisited by a different group that has no idea about the significance of the latest locale. See Lufia and Lufia 2 for a fun, fatal example of this concept. And while we’re on the subject of 16-bit JRPGs, time travel is great for video games for this exact reason. The Black Omen might be unchanging, but it’s fun to see how the simple villages and dungeons of 600 AD evolve in 400 years.

Hot stuffAnd why does this work? Why is this fun? It’s all because videogames have to be very mindful of “space”. While your average modern action movie doesn’t have to worry about the surrounding area for its epic battles at all (pop quiz: how many countries have been destroyed by random Transformer fights?), videogames are all about space, because the player must inhabit those locations for proper exploration and storytelling experiences. It doesn’t matter in every game (I admit, I might not be able to draw a map of Metro City), but so many games must keep an eye on distance and location, else, well, nobody likes to get lost forever. And, if everyone is doing their job right, the player learns the ins and outs of any given area almost subconsciously, and, before you know it, you’re able to recall the layout of Midgar a lot more easily than your home town. If you’re going to swing by my place, just take the third left after Wall Market.

I’ll save any further gushing about this concept for when ROB inevitably chooses Bioshock, but the flipside to memorizing a map or area is that, when that area is changed, your brain immediately notices. Even if it’s been fifteen years since you played the previous game, since you spotted the new, “different” area, some part of your head recognizes that something is wrong, and why is this wrong, and let’s explore a little further, and find out what happened here. And, on top of that, when something that was previously “the size of an entire game” is reduced to “now it’s smaller”, you I can't see what's happening!subconsciously feel awesome, because, wow, look at how much more I’ve accomplished than last time! Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze is six times larger than Donkey Kong Country Returns! DK is huuuuuuge!

Oh, and it is pretty fun to replay through reimaginings of all the Donkey Kong Country Returns levels in a frozen wasteland, too.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is an entertaining game all on its own, but the way it recontextualizes Donkey Kong Country Returns is amazing.

FGC #253 Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

  • System: Nintendo WiiU. A months ago, I wouldn’t have been surprised to see a 3DS port, but now I’m kind of expecting a Switch port. We’ll see if that pans out.
  • Number of players: Two! And I really want to try that sometime! Diddy and the other helpers apparently can assist with a second controller, but I’ve never thought to actually try that with any of my real-life buddies. There are so many other games we can play where we can have apes fight, ya know?
  • Favorite buddy: Cranky Kong has Scrooge’s pogo stick! That makes him tougher than the toughies. On the other hand, the pogo ability is just as finicky as it was back in the NES days, so I’d rather have Diddy in my corner. Can’t tell you how many times that jetpack saved my bacon.
  • Jerks!Favorite Boss: One baboon laughing at Kongs is bad enough, but a baboon that splits into three just to mock a monkey even more? That’s cruel.
  • Did you know? There’s a patch/update for this game, and it seems to exist entirely to fix a glitch in the third world that would prevent the next level from unlocking. “Beat stage, go to next stage” is pretty much videogame 101, so you have to wonder how that glitch got out into the wild.
  • Would I play again: If there is somehow never another Donkey Kong Country game “like this” again (you never know with Nintendo), then I’ll play this again in due time. If there is a DKCR3, then I’m all about leaving the past behind.

What’s next? Random ROB has chosen… Streets of Rage 2! Good! I was getting tired of using the “Nintendo” tag continuously. It’s time to see some streets raging! Or maybe people raging at streets. I don’t know! Please look forward to it!

Huge hooters

FGC #246 Wii Sports

GOALYou always wonder if you’ll know gold when you see it…

I don’t consider myself a videogame critic. Heck, I barely consider myself a “videogame writer” (the purpose of this site is dubious and baffling). If forced to label my relationship with videogames, I consider myself simply an avid, lifetime hobbyist (though I likely take a small pause after rereading the phrase “my relationship with videogames”). I like videogames, I’ve played them all my life, and I probably will continue to do so; however, I don’t feel like that makes me an expert on the subject. This is a hobby, and if there were some sort of “Videogame SATs”, I feel like I would fail. I always screw up on the section about block puzzles…

However, as I’ve mentioned before, I have something of a social anxiety when it comes to my videogame opinions. I want to say it started sometime around the PSX/N64 era, and it has led to this bizarre, creeping fear that one day I’ll have to pugnaciously defend my general distaste for the Resident Evil series. Other franchises that I have never absolutely enjoyed: Animal Crossing, Doom, and Fire Emblem (though I did enjoy that time Fire Emblem was actually Persona). It’s not a matter of “these games are bad” for me, either, it’s just that none of those franchises ever really land for me, and I’m left saying things like, “Sure, it’s fun, but…” or “That’s cool, but I’m going to play some trashy anime shooter now”. And, all the while, those games sell millions of copies, top everyone’s “best of the year” lists, and are eventually sold at Target for $20 bucks with a complete “all DLC included” edition. Okay, that last thing shouldn’t be a measure of success, but I don’t see House of the Dead sticking to the shelves longer than about two months. Popularity is longevity, one way or another, and the world has all but forgotten Time Gal.

PLOPSo, while it impacts nothing, I have this general unease about not being able to see a good game when it arrives. I picture myself out in the cold, huddled around a Sega 32X playing Knuckles Chaotix while all the cool kids talk about their FPSs and racing simulators and whatever the heck is popular with those damn cool kids and their warm jackets and perfect hair and showering every day. Argh! I wouldn’t know the next big thing if it crushed me under its next big thinginess.

Then again, I might be in good company.

The Nintendo Wii Launch was… basically my one big console launch. Let’s see here… the Nintendo, Super Nintendo, and Sega Genesis were all released when I was way too young to expect anything but a birthday/Christmas present, and the Playstation (1) wound up being in the same boat. The N64 I dedicatedly saved my allowance for months to purchase at launch during the day at Toys R Us. My grandmother drove me, so it wasn’t exactly a high-octane affair. The Playstation 2 was another, much later (in my memory) Toys R Us reserve… and I ebayed that system almost immediately because of focused, teenage greed. The Gamecube, as previously mentioned, had its midnight launch opposite the premiere of the Justice League cartoon, so there were other things to do. The various Xboxes and Playstations of later generations always forced me to wait for a price drop and/or hardware revision, and the WiiU decided to be released well after my friends started having kids and jobs and reasons to actually wake up before 8 AM. But! In that tiny window of life when you and your friends have financial and physical freedom, but not all the lovely burdens of being a useful member of society, Nintendo decided to release the Wii. Hooray for one big system launch in my lifetime!

OWIEAnd “big” in this case simply means that my friends and I were all available to hang out at midnight and play the dang system immediately afterwards. Actually, come to think of it, one of my friends was working at the local videogame store at the time, so… hijinks may have ensued. A cardboard “our princess is in this castle” life-sized diorama may have been built. Liquor may have been passed around. And, not saying this did or did not happen, but, thanks to there being no “release minute” limitation on strategy guides, I may have threatened an entire line full of people with an oral reading of The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess Player’s Guide so as to properly inoculate a group of superfans against spoilers. What? I didn’t actually do it, it was just a warning to keep people well behaved. I swear.

But eventually the “launch event” ended (later than for most people, as we all dutifully waited for our friend that was working… and we may have also had to disassemble a castle), and we retired to my friend’s den to actually play this newfangled Wii system. While there weren’t any spare controllers available at retail (why are there limited peripherals opposite every Nintendo launch? I remember not being able to score a second N64 controller for weeks…), we were able to crack open our collected systems and gestalt together four active wiimotes. Now let’s get to playing these brand spanking new games!

Everyone was, naturally, excited about LoZ: Twilight Princess, but we were all experienced gamers, and no one has tried to make Zelda a spectator sport since that time Rich made us all watch him play Ocarina of Time and he wouldn’t even listen when we told him there’s a gold skulltula up that vine wall, we can hear it, geez when can we go back to playing Rampage. I’m a raging iconoclast, so I was most excited about the new Wii Metal Slug collection. That would have been ideal for a room full of guys anxious to try out a new system… but the damn thing got delayed. Boo. So we decided to give this Wii Sports thing a try. We were all used to the typical “game that comes with the system that is a damn useless demo” nonsense, but, hey may as well at least try this disc so insignificant that it didn’t even bother to ship in a proper DVD case.

Yay!And… it was fun. Boxing was probably the biggest hit, because it allowed all participants to spaz out like a flailing magikarp and claim that the sweet science was taking place, but bowling and tennis also saw quite a few rounds. Golf was right out. And baseball was tried, but that necessitated creating a full team of Miis (okay, it wasn’t completely necessary, but the impulse to make an entire team of Jesus Miis was there). It was enjoyable. It wasn’t an earth-shattering experience, but it was a fun way to spend 3 AM on a Sunday.

And then, the next time we all got together, we played Wii Sports again. And again. When I played videogames with other groups of friends, we played Wii Sports. When I played videogames with my girlfriend, we played Wii Sports. When I had to awkwardly hang out with my girlfriend’s friends, we played Wii Sports. When my father asked, “What’s this Wii Sports thing everybody is talking about?” we played Wii Sports. The last time my dad touched a controller, he died to a goomba on World 1-1, and never looked back. And here we were, on my couch, bowling. When you throw in office parties and family outings, I want to say that, by 2008, I had played Wii Sports with literally every person I knew. Well, except my grandma. She never much cared for those ‘intendas.

Of course, by the time that happened, everyone knew Wii Sports was gold. The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess was long forgotten, and even the typical Nintendo party games of Mario Kart and Smash paled in popularity to the game where you can play tennis without getting up. Even the (vast army of) naysayers had to admit that Nintendo had “won” that console generation, and it was almost entirely thanks to one game. One game that didn’t feature Mario, Bowser, or even so much as a mushroom. It was a flimsy little pack-in game, and it wound up being the most important game of the 21st century.

Huh.And did I see it coming? No. Did anyone see it coming? Maybe yes, but I can safely say that, of the people in line at that Wii launch, not a single one was on the edge of their seat for that game where they might get to play a little golf. And playing Wii Sports for the first time, was that a world-shattering experience? Heck no. But it was fun, and maybe that’s all it ever needed to be.

Maybe I’m not the kind of person that will ever be able to identify gold, but at least I’ll be able to bowl 200 along the way.

FGC #246 Wii Sports

  • System: Nintendo Wii. Wasn’t there also a “HD” version of some kind for the WiiU? Does that count? Did that ever count?
  • Number of players: Four is the maximum number of tennis participants, so I’m going to claim that’s the max number of players.
  • Track and Field: There are so many stats and “tracking” graphs in this game, but they’re all completely inaccurate. Sure, you’ve saved all my bowling scores when I played as this Mii on this Wii, but what about all those perfect games I bowled on my friend’s Wiis? See? Did you think of that, Nintendo?
  • LOOK OUTHe’s a Character: Mario and Link may have sat this game out, but Wii Sports is the premiere game for the character find of 2006, Reckless Wiimote Guy. Look out, everybody! He’s coming this way!
  • Further Wii Memories: For better or worse, I purchased a Wii system four times in five years. There was the initial launch in 2006, a Christmas gift for my (then) girlfriend in 2007 (which was a generally selfish gift, as it was purchased mainly so I could escape having to bring my Wii over every time we stayed at her place), a Christmas gift for my (still) mother in 2008 (thanks Wii Fit!), and then a Christmas gift for a friend in 2010. This is compared to nearly every other system I’ve ever owned, which have generally only gotten a second purchase thanks to hardware failure. And one extra PS2 to replace that one I ebayed.
  • Did you know? You can still go back and read old Wii Sports reviews criticizing the graphics. In other news, some gaming journalists have criticized the ocean for not also offering free smoothies.
  • Would I play again: This is the most important videogame in recent memory… but I think I might be over it. I mean, it’s not like I play with my ol’ Bop It anymore, either…

What’s next? Random ROB is back to being truly random and has chosen… Gravity Rush! I suppose I can squeeze a Vita game into some wild Switch sessions. The sky’s the limit! Please look forward to it!

DAMMIT
DAMMIT!

FGC #244 The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

The greatest trick Miyamoto ever pulled was convincing the world Link didn’t exist.

Shigeru Miyamoto, the creator of Link of The Legend of Zelda, has claimed that Link is named for the fact that he is a “link” to the player. When you’re exploring the realm of Hyrule, you’re not doing it “with” Link, you are Link, and his every grunt and tumble is actually your own. Almost every Zelda game highlights this fact with a nearly entirely mute Link that is not so much a legendary hero, but just a dude in a tunic. He might have a sister, he might be a random farmhand, or he might even be a fairy boy, but Link is always intended to be the player from the moment you hit start. Your life is over, bird-flying kid, you’re mine now.

Except… that’s not very Nintendo.

There are a number of reasons Nintendo is friggen’ Nintendo, but one rationale that I’ve always believed is that, from the moment Jump Man became Mario, Nintendo just plain knows how to establish its characters. Mario doesn’t coincidentally wear the same gloves as Mickey Mouse. Maybe it’s the merchandizing, maybe it’s an overzealous fanbase, but, somehow, Nintendo seems to effortlessly create memorable characters. When even Samus Aran, a woman who barely spoke anything but narration for fifteen years, has a “character” to accidentally break during Another M, you know you’ve done something right (or, again, maybe it’s just a deranged fanbase).

“Blank slate in a green tunic” doesn’t exactly fit this pattern, though. Mario is silent save a few woo-hoos, but his personality is firmly established in his actions and acrobatics. “Cowardly” Luigi (flying brave Sir Link’s colors) is much in the same boat. Kirby is a damn pre-verbal pink ball, and I can tell you more about his personality than the headlining characters of La La Land (though, admittedly, I’m not sure about Kirby’s feelings on jazz). Yet Link is, time and time again, the most lauded Nintendo hero. He’s so… quiet? Well, he’s cool, at least. We know that much.

But why do we know that? Simple. It’s because of this hated creature…

HEY LISTEN!

Link might be a “link” to the player, but the real hero of Hyrule is whoever happens to be hanging out with Link on his quest. Without Navi, Tatl, or Fi, Link is… maybe brain damaged? Sheltered, at least. Extremely sheltered. This is the desert of the Gerudo. This is the Dungeon of Bad Vibes, you’re going to need a key or two. This is the field right outside your house. Have you never been here before? Should I stick a little note to your tunic to remind you which way is north? It’s up. Go up, Link. Oh Keese, why are you rolling everywhere?

… What I’m saying is that, without a companion creature, Link is basically a toddler with a sword. And that’s a crafting recipe for disaster.

This, of course, brings us to today’s topic: The Legend of Zelda: Midna Rules Edition. And, yes, Midna rules. It’s right there in the title! But why is Midna the boss? It’s because Link is a person, and not an anonymous “link”.

CLANGWhen The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess (alternate title) begins, Link has a pretty solid life. He’s herding cow creatures, hanging out with swollen headed moppets, and kinda-sorta dating Pony Princess. It’s a phenomenally boring life, but it’s a life, and probably not that far off from even modern countryside living. This all changes with the Realm of Twilight invades, kidnaps a few kiddies, and transforms the surrounding area into a waking nightmare. Link himself is captured, tossed into a dungeon, and transformed into a puppy dog (maybe not in that order). It’s here that he meets Midna, a spritely elf with a penchant for wolf-riding, and the adventure begins in earnest. Together, Midna and Link venture forth to save two kingdoms, and maybe see if Zelda knows how to use that sword (answer: not really).

Oh, also, Midna kinda hates everything.

Midna is the deposed princess of another world. That sucks. She also got transformed into her current “imp” form thanks to a dark curse. That also sucks. And the guy that cursed her and conquered her kingdom? He’s malevolent, power-mad, and crazy-go-nuts bonkers, so it’s hard to make peace with the new administration and “just give him a chance”. In short, Midna doesn’t have a single reason to be happy before the game even begins. By the time she’s forced to work together with a mutt to strike down monkeys and gather shadow pieces, she’s pretty much at her lowest point. She’s cursed, beaten, and is probably going to wind up with a back out of alignment thanks to that silly hat. Just not a good day for Midna.

And she lets Link know about it.

HEHEHEHE

While it’s absolutely true in other Zelda materials, it would be way too reductive to label Midna as simply the “tsundere” archetype. Yes, she’s about three seconds from “it’s not because I like you or anything”, but Midna’s personality does actually evolve over the adventure. Right around the time that Link and Zelda literally save Midna’s life, she seems to noticeably thaw a bit, and her icy exterior gives way to a character that has to shatter dimensions just to keep her feelings in check. Wait, is that tsundere to a T? My bad. Let’s just say that comparing any character this nuanced to a damn anime trope is bad form, and leave it at that. Midna has layers, and it’s not just because she’s attached to a thirty hour adventure.

And it’s Midna’s layers that keep Link alive.

In The Legend of Zelda: Wind Waker, Link initially sets out from Outset Island (oh, I just got that) to rescue his sister. Along the way, he learns of a lost kingdom and magical swords and Bird Person the mailman. By the time Link is kissing the King of Red Lions good-bye, Link’s sister, his own flesh and blood, has been nearly completely forgotten. She’s still there, yes, but she has nothing to do with anything past her hair color, and Link is ready for new, bigger adventures without whatsherface. Can’t quite remember her name… starts with… A?

WaterloggedMidna doesn’t let Link forget about his life. Hey stupid, you’ve got to rescue those kids. Hey stupid, you’ve got to restore Pony Princess’s broken brain meats. Hey stupid, wasn’t there another princess in this story? Do something about that. Hey stupid, I’m not your personal secretary, I’m a damn princess myself, how about you keep saving your stupid kingdom before I turn you into Fido again.

Hey, Link, do what you’re supposed to do.

It’s likely no coincidence that this is the Zelda game with a magical mirror as its main McGuffin, as Midna is the perfect mirror for Link. Midna is selfish when Link is noble. Midna throws a tantrum, and Link stays cool. She is chatty, he is mute. She’s just sitting there, and he is running around on all fours. Midna (appears to be) everything Link isn’t, and that defines Link wholly. Midna is the monster, and Link is the hero.

Link is not a cipher. Link is, as much as any other Nintendo mascot, an established character with clearly defined traits. Link is best demarcated by his opposite number, but, in a pinch, any fairy, sword, or boat will do. Link is the Hero of Hyrule, and we only know it because of his helpers.

Just be careful if you’re going to call Midna a helper…

FGC #244 The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

  • System: I’m always surprised that this game is on so many systems. Technically, it’s on Gamecube (with the original, scarce Gamecube version), Wii (much more popular), and WiiU (via the HD rerelease). I still think of Twilight Princess as a “recent” Zelda title, so it always confuses me to learn it’s already on three different generations of hardware.
  • Number of players: There is only one hero in these two realms.
  • WeeeeeeeMaybe actually talk about the game for a second: There are three reasons I dislike this game. One, during the main quest, it seems like there’s an interruption every five feet, whether it be sumo wrestling, fluzzard flying, or bridge dueling. Second, every “hidden area” seems to have a “come back when you have item X” sign, so exploring before you have dual hookshots doesn’t work out well. And, finally, once you do have everything, the map is so damn big that it takes for-friggen-ever to get anywhere. Lake Hylia is… unruly. All that said, it’s still a Zelda game, so even at its worst, it’s better than like 90% of my library.
  • Favorite Item: I don’t care if it only gets used in one damn dungeon, the Spinner is the bee’s knees. PETA might have issues with this, but I feel like Epona should have been ditched for the second half of the game, and the Spinner should have picked up all of her movement abilities. Spinner-back archery? Yes please.
  • Wii-mote Possibility: The constant shaking of this game isn’t the best thing in the world, but gyroscopic archery did a lot to sell me on the possibility of the Wii. I’m actually curious how the “protect the carriage” bit works out on the Gamecube, because the aiming fun of the wiimote makes that escort mission actually tolerable.
  • D'awwGoggle Bob Fact: I had a very long, in-depth conversation with my (then) girlfriend over the phone while playing through the Sacred Grove/get the Master Sword section of the game. While I can barely remember the actual contents of the conversation, I literally cannot play that area without distinctly recalling my old apartment, my old (garbage) couch, and attempting to juggle the ancient flip phone of the day while shaking the wiimote. Stupid flashbulb memories…
  • Did you know? Midna’s “talking sounds” are actually English voice acting played backwards and distorted. Is this meant to imply that the Twilight Realm was really America all along? You damn, dirty shadow monsters!
  • Would I play again: I’ve been working on the HD rerelease off and on for a little while, but I still haven’t completed it. I kind of cooled on the game when Breath of the Wild seemed imminent. You don’t want to play too much Zelda at once! That said, I know I’ll get back to it eventually.

What’s next? We’re celebrating the Switch launch with the prequel to an anticipated Switch title, Super Bomberman 2. It’s gonna be a blast! Please look forward to it!

Love that song
Midnight release