Saturday, October 27, 2007

Astronomy Domine - The Greatest Trip in the Galaxy

Every day I take the bus from the Mall of America to downtown Minneapolis and back. I have some time to roam around the lousy place (I really hate shopping malls) before my bus home arrives. Imagine my surprise, then, when I wandered into the game stores this week and discovered Super Mario Galaxy running on the Nintendo Wii kiosk.

Yay! Time flies fast. Suddenly, we're only two weeks away from the game's release, currently set at November 11. And by coincidence, I have a payday around that time, with lots of disposable income to throw around. This is going to be very hard to resist.

I expect many others will share my sentiments. The Wii has retained a high demand since its release a year ago, but many of us are still holding out, still waiting for Nintendo to really show us what this little cream-colored box can do. Well, folks, Super Mario Galaxy is it. I mean, this is it, the real deal, the killer app. This game is going to sell like hotcakes.

Up till now, Nintendo seemed to earn its success on the cheap. They sold enough Wii consoles to become the market leader over Microsoft and Sony, but it never really felt earned. You purchased a Wii as an investment, on the potential for what may come down the wire, instead of what was here now. Not there were a lack of great games, as Wii Sports can attest. It's a hit with whole populations who either wrote off videogames, or were never interested in them in the first place. And I don't anyone really appreciates that just yet.

But Nintendo still needed that killer app, that landmark classic that sets the new standard, raises the bar for games, and hurls the gauntlet down against the competitors. Halo was one such game. So was The Sims, or Tetris, or Sonic the Hedgehog. The most famous of them all was Mario, the cartoon plumber that singlehandedly made Nintendo a household name. Super Mario Brothers did it for the NES, Super Mario World did it for the Super NES, and Super Mario 64 did it for Nintendo 64.

Super Mario Sunshine failed to become Gamecube's great megahit, and for this disappointment the game was dismissed as a failure, a setback. Either gamers expected Mario to revolutionize everything yet again, something grand and new and previously unimagined; or they wanted something safe, another Mario 64 to relive the glory days of 1996. But Nintendo and Shigeru Miyamoto, the father of Mario, would have none of it. He was busily burning through his experimental phase. His Achtung Baby-Zooropa-Pop phase, if you will. He and his creative cabal of wizards fervishly rescinded and reinvented every classic game in their library. The new Mario was completely different. The new Zelda was completely different. The new Metroid was completely different. The psychedelic influence took a warped, unpredictable turn. Luigi's Mansion. Pikmin. Animal Crossing. These were strange oddballs, weird little games. If they didn't connect with the gaming public, too bad. Your loss.

The Gamecube is widely regarded as a failure, and it cemented (for a time) Nintendo's reputation as has-beens. Then videogame retro nostalgia kicked in. Then Nintendo DS happened. Then Nintendo Wii happened. Everyone finally realized that Nintendo was back at the top, but the truth is that they never really left. They just needed to wander around a little, in search of some much-needed creativity to share with the rest of us. Dylan did just that. U2 did just that. It's just the way of things.

And somewhere along the way, Sony lost their minds. How else to explain the Playstation 3, the biggest and greatest testament to hubris and absurdity the videogame industry had ever seen? Sony was as close to achieving permanent dominance as anyone could hope. The Playstation brand was videogames. They were untouchable. And then some executive decided that it wasn't enough for us to throw out our old games consoles and buy new ones. We had to throw our DVD libraries away and repurchase the deluxe version.

The result was a $600 games console that also pushed a new DVD format nobody wanted. Sony's response was just like Tom Friedman's attitude toward Iraq - "suck on this." No, thanks. I don't quite feel like taking out a second mortgage on my home to play games and watch movies. I'm already doing fine by that, thank you very much.

Sony expected the kind of blind loyalty you only find in nation states and organized religions. Hell, they've already got the massive monolith. Now hurry up and evolve, you stupid apes. What a load. Now instead of playing God, Sony is scrambling to fend off open rebellion from their stockholders, and the continuing desertion by videogames' software developers. The knives are out and there's blood in the water. You know how this story ends.

And in the midst of all this rides Nintendo, freshly minted the hero and savior of games. Just like one of Shakespeare's tragedies. Now here comes Mario to defeat Richard III and bring peace to the mushroom kingdom.
------------------------------ ;)

Fast forward to Halloween 2007, and the imminent return of Mario. I find myself in front of a Nintendo Wii kiosk, playing Super Mario Galaxy and having the time of my life. There's no question this will be the must-play game of the holiday season. Last year, Wii Sports was the one you took with you to Thanksgiving to play with the family. This year it's all Mario.

I've noticed that these Wii stations are finally allowing controller hook-ups, and I've often harbored conspiracy theories about that. For the past year, you could walk into any electronics store and see a Wii station. But you couldn't play any games. There were no controllers to handle. Instead of seeing an actual game on the telescreen, you would see a series of informational commercials. Mostly they showed other people, hip, young college types, playing and jostling around and laughing about. Occassionally you would see a few seconds of an actual game, but only just a few scattered moments. Lots of teasing. Nintendo had finally mastered the art of seduction. It's the oldest rule of show business - always leave 'em screaming for more. Add in a yearlong drought of consoles (a masterful mix of tactical engineering and dumb luck), and Nintendo successfully smooth-talked its way to the top.

Now they're finally letting their guard down and showing us the goods. About damned time. And, by the most amazing coincidence, this all times in perfectly with the second generation of Wii titles, games like Metroid Prime 3 and Super Mario Galaxy. By now all you will see is Mario, endless stars, happy bunnies, yellow stars, and endless colored gems. It's like something Syd Barrett conjured in his dreams. Astronomy Domine - the greatest trip in the galaxy.
At the beginning, Mario awakens to find himself lying on a small planetoid, surrounded by a number of of planets and asteroids and odd shaped things. Three white rabbits invite him to play with them in the craters and the flowers, and they hop along gleefully, up, across, down, at all sorts of strange angles. Huh. Imagine that. We've just barely started, and already the LSD trip has kicked in. I always found it amazing that Nintendo were such prudes when it came to depictions of violence (Mortal Kombat, Grand Theft Auto), and yet Miyamoto's games are so obviously acid-drenched. Mario is the Terence McKenna of the videogame realm. It's all so laughably subversive.

The Super Mario games remain the pillars of game design, and Galaxy pushes those ideas to its limits. Remember the way Stanley Kubrick used angles and perspective to mess with your head in 2001: A Space Odyssey? There's no such thing as a gravitational "up" in outer space, so why not just run everywhere? This game is exactly like that. You walk and run over, across, and around various planets, and the camera just leaves you behind. All too often, you're controlling a Mario who's upside-down, or at an odd angle. It's here that you realize the joke. For years, games have been selling themselves as 3D, as inhabiting virtual worlds, but that's never been the case. At the end of the day, you're only moving left or right, up or down. You're still walking around in the same old boring rooms. Miyamoto trips that notion apart. You want a real three-dimensional videogame? Well, here it is, kids. Wrap your minds around this.

This is a game that oozes imagination, because it calls up the imagination in your own head. Who hasn't ever dreamt of flying or exploring the stars? Who hasn't ever felt curious? That's always been the Mario trademark. Miyamoto has described his games as gardens, one that you can play around in freely. That sense of wonder, that fun thrill of just goofing off. Wonder if something is hidden in those bushes? Wonder what will happen if you hit those green globes? What is it like underneath the ground, walking around upside-down? Forget about getting from Point A to Point B. That part will solve itself. It's the journey that matters.

If you're wondering how the controls work, I'll lay it out for you. Galaxy uses the Wiimote and Nunchuck. You use the Nunchuck's analog thumbstick to move Mario around. The Z button makes him crouch down, and the smaller C button (sometimes) sets the camera just behind you. The Wiimote uses the A button for jumping, and this is something that really took me a while to settle into. I suppose it's similar to the old controller scheme, joypad on left, button on right, but it still felt a little different to have my hands seperate. My right hand is usually waving around, with the left down at my waist. For the first time in ages, I have to consciously think about which button to press.
Back to the Wiimote. You move around a cursor, with which you can collect colored gems. These are found all over the place, hidden here and there. Sometimes a comet will crash and unleash a few. Every 50 you collect earns you an extra life. There's also another function, and that's used with the B button. You can fire these gems at characters and objects. You can stun a baddie, like our old favorites, the Goombas (they are literally walking mushrooms - again with the subversion). New friends include these yellow stars, who help you along. They also feed on the gems, and you can shoot a stream straight into their mouth. The inevitable surprises result.

Mario has a new spin attack, which you perform by shaking either controller, which is neat fun. This skill is also needed for the giant, hollow stars, which transport you across space to the next planetoid. Just hop up, then shake, and you rocket past. You may even cross another star, which can send you along a new path if your timing is just right. Ahem. I'll try not to spoil too many more secrets. Mario games are like mystery novels with nothing but surprise endings.

The time I spend with the game was very short, only about an hour or two. It was clear that I was just barely started. I had uncovered one galaxy, out of a reported total of 40, unearthed a giant central hub, where a Princess and her minions ask for your help. I found a secret room where you had to run across all of the walls. I saw a green mushroom hidden on the roof of someone's house, and I'm trying to figure out how to get it. Maybe I have to climb that tree somehow.

One thing that really struck out at me was Galaxy's platforming influence. As everyone knows, most of the older, two-dimensional videogames have been all but scrapped in the 3D polygon age, That classic platforming style has become a lost art. But here it lies in Super Mario Galaxy, for all to view. Design elements include things such as moving platforms, moving blocks, long drops into darkness. Perhaps setting the game around spheres brought us back to those roots. There are also moments when the game literally switches to a side-scrolling view. I had one of these discoveries when I landed on a long glass object. It took forever to find an opening inside, but when I snuck in, I found myself running along one of those old-school ant farms. The gravity even shifted about, and Mario ran along the ceiling for a while. Reminded me a lot of a classic NES robot shooter called Metal Storm, which revolved around gravity switches and moving upside down.

Level designs in Super Mario Galaxy are certainly inspired, and even more unhinged and surreal than before. I can't wait to see what the Burning Man crowd thinks of this one. I'll expect to find Terence McKenna's self-transforming machine elves hopping around somewhere. Some worlds revolve around classic platforming structures, and puzzles that call upon the original Super Mario Brothers. One world resembles a giant golf course, complete with putting green. Can't wait to see what happens there. Mario also has some new costumes, including a rediculous bee outfit that should make Jerry Seinfeld jealous. It's one thing to be upstarted by Newman...but Mario? Serenity now!!

Who knows what the normals will think of a game like Mario. It's definitely been turning heads around the game stores at the Megamall. That's always a crucial test. We've been so awash in the same sort of tired games, aimed at the same aging dorks. I've forgotten what it's like to see a videogame that's genuinely, honestly new. I don't remember seeing things like that since I was a kid. Now I want to get my hands on a Nintendo Wii post haste. I imagine a lot of people my age will be thinking the same.

I know it's been said a lot in the past year or two, but now it really and truly does count: Nintendo is back.

Today's Screenshots - Golden Axe 3

As is often the case, I take more photos than I ever use for these videogame essays. So I thought I should share some more Golden Axe 3 screenshots with you. This game probably won't garner much attention, due to its reputation and the fact that it's a retro release on Virtual Console - gamers are too easily suckered in by hype, hype, hype of the new, like ungrateful children perched on Santa's lap. They've become the Veruca Salt Generation.

Anyway, enjoy the photos. Let's see if Edge Magazine publishes any of 'em.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Virtual Console Review - October 22

Whew! This week sees a pair of NES games, and two import games that have never been shown before in the States. This trend of including Japanese-only games has been steadily consistent for several weeks now, and we can tell that Nintendo has been openly supporting the idea, since these titles are spread across so many different platforms. A very nice gesture. I'm hopeful that we'll see more import games, just as I'm hopeful that the console roster will continue to expand. Sega should open up their Sega Master System, Sega CD and 32X (if only for Space Harrier and Afterburner). That ought to be a no-brainer. Infogrames has got to get serious about the Atari legacy that they own, and Virtual Console is the perfect place to start. That's money in the bank, people. What's the hold up?

The October 22 VC games include Lunar Pool (NES); Ninja Jaja Maru Kun (NES/Famicom); and Golden Axe 3 (Genesis/Mega Drive). On first glance, this would appear to be a disappointing week. And for the most part, you'd be right. But if you stick with it and muscle your way through, you'll find one hidden gem in the muck. Three guesses which one that is. Yadda yadda. This entire post has taken most of the week to write, mainly because of access to the computer, but I'm glad to see it finished. Screenshots are a pain; most likely the fault of Internet Explorer, which no sentient being should ever use. Cough, Firefox, cough. Let's get to the games...

Lunar Pool - Compile for NES - 3/10

Compile, one of the true classic development houses, churned out numerous shoot-em-ups over the years, and are probably best known for creating the Puyo Puyo series of puzzlers. They also were responsible for this little-seen NES game, published by Pony Canyon in Japan and FCI in North America. It's a videogame version of billiards. It sucks.

Alright, I should probably go into more detail. There really isn't much point. There has always been a pecking order as far as game publishers are concerned. Still is. Back in the Nintendo days, the top dogs were Konami, Capcom, Tecmo, and Nintendo themselves. FCI and Pony Canyon were pushing the table scraps. These were the sorry videogames that clueless parents and relatives would buy for you as Christmas presents. You'd open the package, knowing that it was a Nintendo game just because of the box, and it would turn out to be something like Super Pitfall or Lunar Pool. It's like being handed a can of lima beans. And then being told that your Christmas present is also your birthday present, since they're so close together. Hmph. Thanks, Santa. Jerk.

I've always wondered why certain videogames ever get made. These are the pointless games, the ones that simulate, for a premium price, something that you could do, just as easily, for free or a handful of coins. Did some dimwit actually try to make a game out of Hide-and-Seek? Or Tarot cards? Or board games? What dumb schmuck would play a video board game? There's a whole closet full of 'em, and nobody you knew ever wanted to touch them, apart from Monopoly or Checkers. Or maybe Risk, if you're the kind to go through that teenage boy Risk phase. Teaches you the valuable lesson of never-ending wars and pointless stalemates.

So what's the point in making a video pool game? Really, what's the use? I never paid more than a buck to play on a real pool table, with real balls and a real cue stick. Most times I'd play for free. My current apartment has two tables. Why would I try some simple-minded, scaled down computer hack job? Why would I spend five bucks for the experience of feeling ripped off and bored? I already had that experience. I went to college.

To be fair, Lunar Pool at least is competent, which means that you can hit the balls and expect them to skittle off in the right direction. There are a number of strange, oddball tables, which appear to be challenging but somehow end up being embarassingly easy. I think I cleared two or three boards on my first try. No missed shots.

What the heck is this doing on the Virtual Console? There are hundreds of titles to choose from in the NES library. It remains one of the greatest game consoles ever made. Why are all the lousy games getting released? Who's in charge of quality control here?!

Ninja JaJa Maru Kun - Jaleco for Famicom (NES) - 2/10

Alright, folks, here's what you need to do. Just copy everything I wrote about Lunar Pool, then paste it here, and translate it into Japanese. Add swear words where necessary. There's your damned review. What a sorry sack of crap. LSD and magic mushrooms remain illegal in this country, but this game is perfectly acceptable. Which one do you think will cause more brain damage? That's justice for you. Better yet, skip the drugs. I'll just hit my head against a wall a few times, until the room starts spinning. Yeah, that's still much better. Better than the drugs and better than this game.
Ninja Jaja Maru Kun is a Japanese title, originally appearing on the Famicom in 1985. It never saw a release Stateside. Back then, Nintendo had this thing called a "seal of quality." They actually vetted games pretty strictly before giving them the green light in America. They understood the collapse of the game market in 1983 and 1984, understood it all too well. Games like Super Mario Brothers and The Legend of Zelda would become the new standard for games. Jaja Maru would become fodder for firecrackers and termites.

This game is shit. No, seriously. The name of the game, when properly translated into English, reads as follows: "This Game is Shit."

Hmm...okay, here is the point to the game. You play a ninja who runs across a multi-tiered stage and shoots enemies who bob up and down and wander aimlessly for no reason. It's much like swatting flies. It's roots probably lie in early arcade games like Space Panic, and maybe Defender; I am reminded a little of a Broderbund computer game called Drol, which was kind of like Defender on very strange drugs. Don't ask me which kind.

Drol was actually somewhat interesting, especially for its time. It carried a certain darly surreal style, with bizarre buglike creatures and droning, atonal sound effects. You played a strange-looking animal equipped with a ray gun and a backpack, and worked your way around until you found runaway characters. Eventually, you faced the main villain, some sort of creepy masked medicine man. There was something of William Burroughs in that game.

Jaja Maru is nothing like that. It's more like a stale sandwich, or staring at wallpaper. It's a sorry excuse for a game, like most of those early Famicom and NES titles. I don't think a game like this was ever appealing. You could make the nostalgia excuse for a game this old; but I can't imagine anyone believing you with a straight face. What would be the point? What could you brag about, in proving that you could muster the basic primate reflexes to waltz through this slow sludge of sorry syrup? And then Nintendo goes the extra mile, and charges you six bucks for your efforts. That's one dollar more than domestic NES games. You know, real classics like Urban Champion and Lunar Pool and Tennis.

In a more enlightened society, this would qualify as a mugging.

Golden Axe 3 - Sega for Mega Drive (Genesis) - 8/10

Hmm....I still don't have any idea what to say about this game. Even with an extra day or two to throw some thoughts together. Let's just jump into the mosh pit and see what breaks, shall we?

Ow! My leg's gone. Again. Just great. Don't let anyone fool you about aging gracefully, kids. Everything breaks down, and it royally sucks.

Okay, Golden Axe 3. The third and final installment on the Sega Mega Drive, which however failed to make its way out of Japan. It became one of the great, "lost" Sega games to the rest of us in the West. We were assured by the powers that be - namely, the nerds in charge of the prozines and the suits at Sega themselves - that we weren't missing a thing, that the game was really a bust. They were wrong. They were probably jealous, too, jealous of missing out.

Perhaps everyone was already burned out by then, burned out on the endless assault of scrolling beat-em-ups like Double Dragon and Final Fight and Streets of Rage and a thousand other faceless photocopies. Certainly by 1993 you had your button-mashing kung-fu fix.

Here's how these sort of games work. You play a character, usually some sort of steroid freak, or some hot chick who can fight while barely dressed, or some even bigger steroid freak. You walk down a city street, find some goon - let's call him Lenny. You're always on a first-name basis with these guys, which is nice because you're going to be fighting them at least five hundred times over the course of the game. The street gangs they belong to are very small, only a handful of members. They all have to shuffle in and out to present the illusion that they're much bigger than they are. Sometimes they'll even change colors to trip you up. Look out, Bigger Steroid Dude! Lenny is back, and this time he's painted blue! And now he's green, or charcoal, or is that mauve? What the hell is "mauve," anyway?

So you see Lenny, then proceed to punch and kick him into traction, by complex use of the attack button. It goes like this. You hit the attack button, then you hit it again. Then you hit it again, and maybe twice more for good measure. Whew. That was hard. Right up there with quantum mechanics. Max Planck would have his hands full with any one of these games.

Which brings us back to Sega's old Golden Axe series. The first game was an arcade hit, one of those games designed to steal your quarters every couple of minutes. It was a pretty good way to spend your time and money before you discovered girls. It was also helpful when those girls wouldn't discover you back. Great stress reliever. Hmm. Now that I think about it, this probably is the whole reason for the martial-arts fighting game to exist. Better to take that frustration out on the bad guys in Golden Axe. Also, you get to look at a hot girl's butt, which is more than you're gonna see as long as you're in high school, kid. Just deal with it.

The arcade game was an early release for the Sega Genesis, and a standout hit, thanks to its large charaters and detailed graphics. A sequel arrived in the arcades, but nobody bothered to pay any attention to it. You're better off ignoring that one, too. It wasn't worth much. You got to play as a scrawny little kid with bad hair. I didn't need to role-play that part. I already was a scrawny little kid with bad hair. Just look at my yearbook.

A sequel, Golden Axe 2, arrived on the Genesis as an exclusive. Either everybody noticed that it was essentially the exact same game as before, no nobody noticed. Either way it didn't matter. It was a good game and another quality time-waster; it didn't have an original thought in its pretty little head, but it was faster and more responsive than the original.

A year or two passed and Golden Axe 3 finally arrived for the Mega Drive in Japan. By then, the series had been lapped several times by the Streets of Rage series, as well as the tournament fighters that followed Street Fighter 2. The whole notion of Governor Ahnold hack-and-slash seemed passe, out of date, worn out. But, to be fair, we were all tired of the whole ball of wax by '93. For one thing, we were finally out of high school and into college. And secondly, and more importantly, we were all getting steady dates. So no more needless frustration to vent.

It probably required some space of years to put between ourselves and the Genesis, to forget about most of those cheap, pointless brawlers, and also to finally appreciate the good ones. Golden Axe 3 got a bad rap. It really is one of the good ones.

In fact, it might even be the best of the three titles. That's despite its best efforts to ruin itself. The game was strapped with a tiny memory space - 4 megabits, or 512K - while most top-priority Sega games were allocated many times more. That's closer to the size of the earlier Genesis games, like Revenge of Shinobi or Last Battle or Ghouls 'N Ghosts or Thunder Force 2. Standard Genesis games hovered between 16 and 32 megabits. Those sizes were necessary to keep up with the competition, and push the envelope.

Golden Axe 3 appears scraggy and grungy. It is also rather impressive with its graphics. The visual style is closer to that late-NES period, with heavy use of tiles and rough patterns. It makes for some impressive environments, through caves, across mountains, and through towns and castles. There's even a pirate ship sailing somewhere, and a giant soaring eagle. This game possesses a quality that is revealed slowly, over time. You have to battle your way across much of the countryside to seriously appreciate it all. If this were released in, say, 1990, it would have been hailed as a triumph.

One thing that always bothered me about Golden Axe - more than most other brawlers - was its slow, lethargic pace. This slower action carried well in the aracdes, because the game heavily relied upon smooth animation. The Genesis port needed to cut some of the in-between movements out, and the result was something a little choppier and sluggish. Golden Axe 2 worked to fix this, but it was still bound by that feel. Sega probably thought that slow half-step-behind pace was part of the charm. I have no idea what they were thinking.

For Golden Axe 3, the influence of the tournament fighters was far more evident. Like Bare Knuckle 3 (the less said of Sega of America's sorry hack-up of Streets of Rage 3 said, the better), the cast of characters was empowered with a far larger array of moves. It was always a pretty basic fighter, but now the offense really opens up. There are different canned combos depending on your distance to your opponent, and the special magic attacks - Golden Axe's great iconic landmark - are bigger and meaner than ever. Somehow, Sega snuck in some desperately-needed special effect for this part, especially Axe Battler's whirlwind and Tyrus' flames. Two players can team up and combine their magic, which is really clever. It's a fun way to get you to mix and match all four of the fighters around, just to see all the cool moves.

I think this game owes a debt to Virtua Fighter. Wouldn't even be surprised if members of Sega's VF team were involved in the production. The movements are precise, very demanding, almost anal. Which is exactly like the first Virtua Fighter. The idea is to keep the joystick or joypad neutral, and then move for specific attacks, instead of merely marching forward and mashing the "B" button.

You shouldn't be surprised to see that your fighters can block attacks, and that this is an essential skill. You really won't get very far with the old attack-attack-attack approach. Each confrontation is a challenge, a real fight for once. Some bouts against two or three enemies - the skeletons are the worst, but don't count out those knights - can slog on and on. It's more like one of the old Ali-Frazier match-ups than a typical video fighting game. I think this is also a key reason why I like this Golden Axe the best. It's the most challenging. It's an expert's game, a thinking game.

There are a number of multiple paths you can take, so it's impossible to play the same game twice. There are sometimes even multiple paths in the same town, or different sets of stairs on the boat. Occasionally you'll even find hostages who can be rescued, which is a nice touch. It all adds to the atmosphere, of which this game has in spades.

Many critics tend to think of Virtual Console as a throwaway, a place for old games that aren't worth more than a few minutes' time, and then only for nostalgia. We've already seen several examples that proves this idea wrong. Gamers want their hobby to be taken seriously, to be declared "art." Well, kids, there's no art without history, and as long as videogames are treated as instantly-desposable commodoties, you'll get no respect.

There, I'm done! If anybody needs me, I'll be in the den listening to Hendrix.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Virtual Console Releases - August 6

Alright, gang, another Virtual Console review post, and another attempt to get caught up. Slowly but surely, I'm actually getting there. Whew! Don't let yourself get caught behind if you're writing about something like this.

This current week - the week of October 15 - saw the releases of Gate of Thunder (Turbografx-CD), Ninja Gaiden 2: The Dark Sword of Chaos (NES), and Metal Marines (Super NES). Unfortunately, the only game I have any experience playing is Ninja Gaiden 2. Which was a fantastic game, by the way. So I'll need to spend some time with them before I'm able to actually, you know, write about them. Or I suppose I could just toss out the same generic Mad Libs press release like everyone else.

Hah! You know better than that! I'm trying to make this into a book. We need more material. So the Mad Libs are out.

So, anyway, let's get back to the backlog of great games. This week's entries include Wave Race 64 (Nintendo 64), Galaga '90 (Turbografx), and Adventures of Lolo (NES).

Adventures of Lolo - HAL for NES - 7/10

Hey, look at that. A puzzle game that wasn't a shameless knockoff of Tetris.

For some of you, that should be enough information to make the jump. It's a puzzle game for the NES, and it's not Tetris. No falling blocks, no matching anything into threes, yadda yadda. Which isn't to say that I'm not fond of those sort of games. I'm just burned out on them, burned out on the whole creative bankruptcy of it all. There was once a time when puzzle or brain games - yes, they were actually informally called "brain" games - were a source of invention and inspiration. And they were often fiendishly difficult. These were the real mental exercises.

Adventures of Lolo was the first in a series of such puzzlers from HAL, the studio best known today for its pink marshmallow-balloon-thing Kirby, and his many games across various Nintendo platforms. Before Kirby, HAL made a number of modest NES titles, and the Lolo series was clearly the best.

The game is a cute sort of puzzler, taken clearly after the Sokoban archetype. Sokoban, in case you don't recognize the title, is the puzzler where you move boxes in a warehouse. It's known by many names, and somehow, over the years, has become one of the great archetypes of modern videogames. Just about every major game involves a moment where you have to move boxes or crates around. Heck, in Shenmue, Yu Suzuki turned it into a full-time job. Your only reward was to race the trucklifts in the morning.

Lolo is based around that premise, although here your job is to collect heart pieces in order to clear a screen. The game starts out fairly simple, at least for the first couple of levels. After that, watch out. It becomes hard. Brutally hard. You'd never expect that a blue blob with doe eyes could make you want to pull your hair out by the roots. But Lolo sure does.

Sometimes you have some extra moves, like the ability to shoot an enemy and turn them into an egg. These are extremely limited, however. Above all, Lolo is a puzzle game of patterns. You are expected to solve each room in a certain manner; this way first, then the other. If you're able to fire two or three eggs, you'd better believe they have a very specific purpose.

So, in a sense, this battle of wits is really between you and the game designers. You have to try and figure out how they tick. It's like a chess match with an unseen opponent. If nothing else, Gary Kasparov can relate with you. At least your computer opponent isn't cheating to get the upper hand.

There were three Lolo games on the NES, each one pretty much the same, although HAL tried to shoehorn some kind of story mode into the third one. Perhaps they were trying to make things easier. I dunno. You probably only really need to be a puzzle sadist to get all three games, if and when the other two are released to Virtual Console. For everyone else who wants a good mental challenge, Adventures of Lolo comes recommended.

Augh! I ended with a review cliche! What was I thinking? I may as well pull out the Game Review Mad Libs...lessee...insert bad puns...witty word play....hmm...heavy alliteration....yadda yadda....

Galaga '90 - NEC/Hudson for Turbografx-16 - 7/10
Another excellent addition to the Turbografx library, although you probably wouldn't expect it at first. Gamers back around 1990 didn't think too much, either. A modernized version of the ancient video arcade wasn't really the thing you wanted to see when your buddy with the Sega Genesis was shoving Revenge of Shinobi and Thunder Force 3 in your face. These are the sort of game releases that condemn consoles to runner-up status.

Perhaps we'll be a little more forgiving by now. It's certainly been long enough for anyone, new or old, to give Galaga '90 a fair shot. The game deserves it. I was a great fan of the original Galaga, even better than the original Galaxian. To my eyes, here was the prototypical shoot-em-up. Scrolling backdrops, endless attack waves of space bugs, that terrific little secret of earning the second ship for the double-shot, and those groovy bonus rounds. The '90 edition only adds more sugar to the cookies.

Namco is very clever with this title. It appears, at first, to be happy as an updated retro title. The same old game with better graphics and flashy fireworks. And this continues for several levels, until you are properly lulled along. Then your spaceship warps into uncharted space, and things really get interesting.

Not too many gamers were aware of all those shooters Namco made after Galaga. There were a couple more attempts to milk the old Galaxian formula, before yielding to the more mordern scrolling shooters. They pay homage to this tradition in Galaga '90; in a sense, showing you the evolution of the shooter genre.

In later zones, you'll find yourself in open space, moving to dodge giant asteroids (ah, clever tribute there), and runaway aliens swoop in here and there. Every once in a while, a new attack wave appears. Sometimes it's in the Galaga tradition, and sometimes it's just like 'ol Galaxian, attack patterns and all. Namco also takes a page from Taito's Darius series, by allowing you to warp along a number of different paths. You'll have to play the whole game through many times to see all the worlds, and the action is compelling and speedy enough to hook you along for the ride.

By this point, it's something of a cliche to point out the obvious, that the Turbo has about a hundred million space shooters. Whatever. More lazy Mad Libs. Galaga '90 is a real standout. Not something you're likely to spend hours or weeks glued to your set playing, but perfect for that arcade fix. A couple quarters here, a couple quarters there.

Wave Race 64 - Nintendo for Nintendo 64 - 9/10

And so we come to one of the signature games from the Nintendo 64 library. Wave Race 64 was one of the first launch games for the console, sharing the space alongside Super Mario 64 and Pilotwings 64. Yep, Nintendo thought they were really being clever with the names. Well, lemmie tell ya. Throwing "64" at the end of every game wasn't clever; it was annoying as hell. Worse than the "super" prefix for every other Super NES title.

Ahem. It's easy to get sidetracked here. Almost too easy, in fact. This isn't an indictment against the game proper. No, something deeper. I think Wave Race 64 came to symbolize, and embody, all the highs and lows of Nintendo 64. Mario 64 was perfect. The greatest videogame ever made. You couldn't find a pair of eyes in 1996 to disagree,not even the NiGHTS junkies clinging tightly to their Sega Saturns.

So Mario was perfect, and Wave Race was, and is, a great videogame. But it's the true mascot for the console. Here lies the true archetype. I stumbling into a running theme? Blame the collective digital unconscious.

Wave Race 64 was as much a standout for the new Nintendo console was Mario. Those water effects made a tremendous impression. This was a fantastic achievement. Revolutionary, even. This was something that was clearly far ahead of anything seen on Saturn or Sony Playstation. Nintendo was staking the high ground on the graphics war.

And the way the water felt, really, was just as important to that feeling of immersion. The flow of the waves, from serene calm to stormy turrent, moved with an expressionist zeal. The movement of your jetskis across the surface was precise, intuitive, perfect. It's still perfect, which is slightly unsettling. Haven't there been any better water racing games since then? Actually, um, there haven't been any such games in a long time. I remember Hydro Thunder on the Dreamcast. Even that game couldn't carry you through quite like Wave Race.

The jetskis that you control maneuver perfectly, allowing you to steer, cut, swerve, and spin quickly and easily. This was a crucial test for Nintendo's new analog control, and you can clearly see the results. Analog control became standard almost overnight. The last console to use such controllers was the Atari 5200. And that was a train wreck.

Oh, and you can perform some stunts on your ski as well, but I can't remember any of them beyond the barrel roll. It's purely for show, but this has always been a stalwart of the Nintendo design. Makes the games fun and immersive above all else. Create a daydream that you want to frolic in. You shouldn't be surprised to learn that Shigeru Miyamoto, yes, was in command of the design team. His fingerprints are once again on display, demonstrating just why he is videogames' greatest wizard.

Remember what I said earlier about this game being the true mascot for the Nintendo 64. We've gone over the good parts. Now for the downside.

Nintendo's stubborn refusal to give up the cartridge medium would almost prove their undoing, and it damn near sank the N64. The early games were judged intently to see how you could fit everything into that tiny space. The truth? They couldn't. Nintendo really couldn't. They couldn't fit the size and scope of the ever-widening Playstation and Saturn worlds into those carts, not without compromises. Those compromises would only become more and more glaring as the years dragged on.

I think, because of this, poor N64 wasn't allowed to really stretch as far as it could have. The polygon models were always blockier, simpler than the rivals. True, the console relied more heavily on visual effects over pure polygons. It was one of Nintendo's signature gambles. Didn't really pay off.

I remember noticing some limitations in Wave Race 64, and it wasn't pretty. Things like the character models. Your racers are really, really blocky. Chunky, even. It's like they were assembled in the cubist style. Backgrounds, likewise, were simpler, utilizing easier geometry. And those backdrops? The fuzzy textures? Yeah, that was pretty obvious even in '96. Clearly, that water took up most of the space.

I feel a bit guilty for pointing that out. Game reviewers are notorious for behaving like spoiled children on Santa's lap. But I feel no guilt in protesting about the game's biggest weakness - the level design. The race courses are simple. Far too simple. Simple, as in giant circles. Just when racing games on the rival consoles were becoming sophisticated, challenging, and loaded with surprises, Wave Race can feel like a ride at the kiddie park.

There are a large number of tracks, especially when most racers only had two or three courses. But I always had a problem with this. This has always been a thorn in my side where Wave Race 64 is concerned; I wanted some really inventive level designs, like Sega Rally on the Saturn, or Wipeout on Playstation. Instead, we get big ovals and simplistic circles. No doubt this was the inspiration for the game's use of buoys, in which you slalom through in order to build up your jetski's speed. I really like that idea; it's refreshingly original, adds a layer of depth to the races, and maintains a crucial balance in the gameplay. Miss too many buoys and you're out of the race.
Another check in Miyamoto's column. And another highlight of the challenges of working with those damned cartridges.

The game options allow you to change the water, from calm waves to heavy torrents. I've found it necessary to play in a storm in order to keep things interesting, especially for the two-player games (oh, what a shame this couldn't have been four-player). I do wish there were more options for customizing the races, ideas like random placements of the buoys and other objects. The final racetrack is novel for its receeding tides, which drains the water away with each lap. That option should have been available for all the courses. Now that would have added some challenge.

In the end, I have to admit that I remain torn about Wave Race's strengths and weaknesses. Heck, I like the drama. And it's still eminently playable and fun. I've yet to sit down and play the Gamecube sequel, Wave Race: Blue Storm; to date that remains the only addition to the series (which began as a humble Gameboy racer). A bit of a puzzlement, actually. Perhaps that only adds to the game's mystique. Sequel overkill has turned many a videogame into rust. I'd prefer this one fresh, thank you very much.

One final note: you may be wondering about those screenshots posted above (well, they should be there, if this computer cooperates), and why they appear a bit patchy. Nearly all screenshots come with the aid of emulators on my computer. The best Nintendo 64 emulator is one called Project 64. Games consoles become increasingly difficult to emulate properly, and while Project 64 is the best and most comprehensive of N64 emulators, many games remain glitchy and imperfect. Wave Race 64 can be very patchy in play; it's kinda like drunk driving at times. Which explains the glitches in the photos. I've no doubt that everything plays perfectly on Wii, so no worries.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Intelligent Systems Knows the Score

My first impression after reading the latest details on the upcoming Advance Wars: Days of Ruin? Intelligent Systems Got Everything Right. They're going to nail this one out of the ballpark.

It isn't all that often that game development studios recognize their weaknesses and take their mistakes back. Most game franchises are built upon the notion of always adding, adding, always piling on to the last game. Sometimes, this is welcome and needed. Often it is not, and the result is a game series that loses its original spirit, wandering aimlessly, a bloated, blobby mess. The best example of this? Tony Hawk Pro Skater. See also: Tomb Raider, Final Fantasy, most EA Sports games....heck, just say most sequels.

My point is this: Intelligent Systems knows the score. And despite all the glowing reviews and all the fun we had, Advance Wars DS was a disappointment. It fell into the sequel trap: piling on extra features, piling on more attacks, piling on more offensive weapons, piling on pointless mini-games. Yadda yadda. The balance of the gameplay, the core of the whole strategy, was thrown awry. The game went from being a skillfull chess match to, well, Tecmo Bowl.

Not that there's anything wrong with Tecmo Bowl, but racking up a dozen touchdowns shouldn't be the ideal for a war strategy title.

Advance Wars 2 on the Gameboy Advance was the peak of the long-running series, and I'm thrilled to see Intelligent Systems move back to those roots. The new DS title, Days of Ruin, is notable for what's been cut out. Like a prime steak, all the fat has been trimmed away.

Gone are the CO tag teams, and their joint super attacks (which completely ruined matches). Gone are the dual-screen battles, which only served as a juggling gimmick. Gone, also, are the chirpy anime characters who populated the previous three games. The whole brightly-colored, vaguely Super Nintendo look is gone. In its place, a game with a far darker, more omnious mood. It's more serious, more violent and apocalyptic. Advance Wars has finally grown up.

I've also read, courtesy of Kotaku and DS Fanboy (thank you very much, btw), that many of the game units have been scaled back or removed. Like you needed four levels of tanks. New units include the motorbike, a lightly armed vehicle ideal for quick movement; Flare, an infantry unit that can clear fog-of-war but cannot attack; and Duster, an ariel unit that has yet to be shown.

The most important feature - at least to me, if you couldn't guess - was online. Not only the ability to play others over wifi, but the ability to send and receive the custom maps. Intelligent Systems has listened. Have they been reading my blog?

Here's what will happen. In addition to wifi, there will be voice chat, and something called Map Center. Here, you can upload, download, and rate custom maps. Excellent move, gang. Excellent move. Now I'll have to get this game on day one, just so I can upload all my old Advance Wars 2 maps. Who's up for some Adventure?
I never thought they had it in 'em. I am duly impressed. Advance Wars: Days of Ruin is now the game to get.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Classic Videogame Illustrations #7

The Japanese art flyer for World Heroes 2 Jet. An impressive little bit of anime-styled artwork for the sadly underrated fighting game series. C'mon, this game has a crazy medicine man. It has a pirate! What more do you want?

Pro Evolution Soccer '08 for Wii

Slowly but surely, developers are working to integrate that mysterious Wiimote into established gameplay. Here's an amazing example of where sports games may be headed, courtesy of Pro Evolution Soccer. Konami has long been recognized as the kings of soccer, or rest-of-the-world football, for many years. They've always been more focused on the depth and strategy of the game, taking the mantle from Sega's Worldwide Soccer 97 on Saturn, and always leaving EA's poor FIFA series in the dust.

Now Pro Evolution Soccer takes that next leap on that little white box and its strange, untested controllers. This is really remarkable, just amazing stuff. Here, watch the video and see for yourself. Here's what the video demonstration highlights:

Dribbling: Just point in the direction you wish to dribble with the Wiimote. The player is controlled with the Nunchuck. This enables some pretty complex dribbling and movements.

Passing: Just point at a player to receive a pass. This immediately reminded me of the giant stars in Super Mario Galaxy.

Long pass: Automatically switches to a long pass depending on the distance. This is a good example of streamlined controls. I always hated having so many buttons just to move the ball downfield. Even WWS '97 was guilty.

Pass into space: Pointing at space to make your teammate automatically move into the space to receive the pass. This is where the control scheme really starts to shake things up, as the video continues to demonstrate.

Free run: Players not on the ball can also be controlled real-time via the Wiimote. Just point at the player and drag the cursor to move them. Teammates will make tactical movements when you are on "free-run."

Offside trap: Now this is just cool. Control your defensive line by shaking the Wii controller. Try springing the offside trap. Alright, I'm just reprinting the text from the video. So what? I'm an American; I can't explain this sport to you.

Shooting: Shake the Nunchuck to shoot the ball. Smart move, and fairly intuitive. This is the first thing we think of when we think of the Wii controls.

Konami's video then shows all of these skills in motion, and it's an amazing sight to behold. It appears to be difficult on first glance, since you essentially are being given control over your entire team (instead of just one player), but I think it will become second nature before very long. What this game is trying to do is streamline the controls, all while giving you nearly complete control over your tactics and strategy on the field.

The video demonstrates how you can move players in order to draw defenders away, opening up space for another linesman to run into. An entire world of psychological warfare opens up here. You can move a man behind defenders, you can fire off one-two passes, yadda yadda yadda.

If the controls are properly fine-tuned, this could become a new standard in sports games. Again, I'm an American. I like soccer, but only casually. And nearly all soccer titles are really arcade games at their core. This control scheme opens up the strategy. Now, to my eyes, the sports actually begins to make a bit of sense. There's more to it than that Simpson's parody.

As a comparison, I watched a video of EA's upcoming FIFA '08 for the Wii. It looks like they actually bothered put some effort into this one, instead of just slapping Wii controls onto an old Gamecube game. I'm even looking forward to the new "family mode" controls. But the difference against Pro Ev '08 is already striking. Next-generation, even.

Everybody in the know should stand up and take notice. Write down a lot of notes. And then start stealing everything. How would something like this work for, say, basketball or baseball?

Saturday, October 13, 2007

Public Enemy is Back!

Yeah! Public Enemy - to me, they're the Led Zeppelin of hip-hop. They created a bigger, louder, and more diverse sound than anyone in the history of rap. And now Chuck D and the gang has a new album that's just fantastic.

The 20th Anniversary album? That's just great. The music has been hit-and-miss for most of this decade (He Got Game was their last great peak), but the quality and effort are just melting off the speakers here. It's a terrific collection of music that pays tribute to PE's vast range of influences, and the socially conscious protest music that shames most hip-hop sellouts. Hey, kids, do you remember music? Real music that meant something? Something more than selling plastic and toys and teenage fantasies?

This is one of the best albums of the year. I can't wait to hear this on vinyl, with the big speakers and the bass cranked way up. Spread the word and share the love...

Elebits - Boss Video

After seeing all those Dewy videos, I naturally moved on to Elebits. Thankfully, there are some quality videos over at YouTube. This video is a compilation of three boss battles. This seemed like a real fun game. Again, I haven't actually played it, but the idea at least - being able to completely trash homes and neighborhoods - is a great one. I always liked those games that allowed you to break things.

Any views on this game? It received solid, if uninspiring, reviews. But I haven't heard any opinions from the fans on the street. Was this a good game? Would you recommend it? Should I just go back to Neil Young videos?

Dewy's Adventure Wii - Groovy Video Blowout, Maaann!

What? Did you eat those poison mushrooms when we went hiking? I told you not to do that! Ah, well, might as well put on some Grateful Dead records and enjoy the trip.

Here's a game for the Nintendo Wii that really caught my eye - a trippy little patch of bliss called Dewy's Adventure. It's created by the same studio that gave us Elebits, and further establishes Konami as one of the premier developers for Wii. Give them credit where credit is due, folks. They're conjuring up new and original games that take advantage of the Wiimote. They're helping to push the envelope.

Dewy's appeals to me because it reminds me of Marble Madness, that good 'ole arcade classic from 1984. Now there was an original game. Brutally hard, even. Dewy incorporates many elements from platforming adventures, some inventive gameplay ideas (like changing the weather), terrific character design and animation....yadda yadda. On a console already bloated with shovelware and b-budget gimmicks, games like this really stand out.

And they tell you that psychedelic drugs are bad for you. Let's see Zoloft and Paxil inspire something like this. Or any of the other poisons big pharma tries to sell you on the nightly news. A soma a day, kiddies, helps keep the peasants in line.

Friday, October 12, 2007

Down By The River - CSNY

I'm listening to Neil Young's Everybody Knows This is Nowhere right now on the turntable. A fantastic album. I remember seeing this vintage performance of Down by the River, with the aid of Crosby, Stills and Nash. So, naturally, I just add to post it here on the blog. They add such a vivid dimension to the song, as they always do.

I missed the chance to see CSNY last year, when they toured in support of Neil Young's Living With War album. That's about as good as rock 'n roll gets, kids. I really wish a live album could come from that tour. Let's cross our fingers and hope for the best.

Is the Wii a Fad?

Question of the day: is the Nintendo Wii a passing fad?

Answer: No. Of course not. What kind of stupid question is that?

There has always been a certain degree of resistance against the Wii from the more hardcore gaming nerds and the development community, and I've never understood that. I suspect this industry took the status quo for granted.

But, surely, anyone connected to videogames knows fully well that the overall fanbase has stagnated for many years. It's become the snake that devours its own tail, an inside clique that only those who've been around for ages can break into. Good heavens, look at all the sequels of sequels on store shelves. We've been seeing the same yearly (or semi-yearly) updates to the same games again and again. And then we're being told to throw away our games consoles and buy the newer, even more expensive versions...just so we can play the same four titles for the umpteenth time.

The narrative for Nintendo's latest console was already set in stone, like everything else in this bizarre little pop business. Gamecube all over again, which was Nintendo 64 all over again. They're the child you pat on the head and then send on his merry way. Aww, good for you, little boy. Now go away and bother someone else. I'm working on this picture spread for Metal Gear Part 6.

But a funny thing happened on the way to the coliseum. Nintendo's quirky little system became a hit. A monster hit. The damned thing has been flying off shelves from the moment it touched down. It's gone on so long that Nintendo finally achieved the impossible: they regained the market lead on the home consoles.

This feat is looked down upon by the high holy Comic Book Guys, who somehow are now feeling threatened by the prospect of all these, gasp, casual gamers. How dare they tread upon my holy sanctuary with their Wii Sports and their remote controllers?! If only I could get my toy lightsaber out of the closet...where are my potato chips? Belch!!

Alright, I'm being a bit unfair and stereotypical. But that's the issue, isn't it? This childish threat of the normal people, the "casuals." As if real life shouldn't intrude upon your World of Warcraft fantasy.

So, instead of pandering to the same or dwindling numbers of overgrown Peter Pans, Nintendo managed to attract the rest of us. That's right, us. I've been connected to videogames ever since childhood, and I know that history pretty well (almost too well, methinks). But I do have other interests, and I'd rather hang out with the casuals than the hardcore. They're more fun. Videogames are really at their best in social situations, anyway. That game box is a party machine. Always has been.

The Nintendo Wii gets bagged for its reliance on party games, but what about the Sega Dreamcast? The best Dreamcast games were all party games. You hardcore types are just like prog rock snobs. If it doesn't have thirty tempo changes and a hundred chords, it isn't any fun.

Then there's this angle, which really puzzles me:

For years, game developers have made a boatload of money supporting consoles that take graphics and gameplay to another level. Sorry to say, graphics still matter, and because the Wii is lacking, some walk into a room, play with it for an hour, tell everyone how fun it is, and go back to their PS3 to marvel at the look of a game.

This is the mantra of a spoiled child. A little boy that throws away his Christmas presents as soon as they're unwrapped. Whah! Whah! Me want more toys! My grandparents' generation fought the Depression and the War. My generation cries over the toys they continue to play well into their thirties. No wonder there's no anti-war movement.

I think it's pretty obvious that we're past the point of complaining about video game graphics. The days of bad graphics are long past. I remember Atari 2600. I remember Intellivision. Today's overgrown children have nothing to compain about. Even the most hastily-assembled Wii or Playstation 2 or Xbox title looks fantastic.

I don't have a problem with the way Wii Sports looks. I think it looks fine. And I can actually play it. And so can anyone else. That's the trick. Fun. Remember that? I have too little time on my hands as it is. I have other distractions, like books, movies, music, vinyl records, my guitars, writing, yadda yadda. And I remember when video games provided instant thrills and an open door to everyone.

Why do you think Pac-Man was so popular?

Whatever. You know, there is one final thought to put into your heads. You don't have to play videogames at all. You don't have to do it. The world will keep spinning, life will continue its merry way. You may even become a better person if you just turned off the television and spent more time outdoors. You don't even have to do anything. Just sit on the lawn and admire the scenery. Take in the sights. You're going to die one of these days. You should have something interesting to tell the Supreme Being when you meet Him.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Yet More Super Mario Galaxy Photos

Here, more screenshots from Super Mario Galaxy, including the latest. The first photo with the penguins looks just amazing. The artists have really outdone themselves, and they're really raising the bar on Nintendo's humble Wii.

And check out that last photo. Mario surfing on a stingray? Now that just looks super cool. The ice races were among my favorite moments from Super Mario 64. I was surprised that Nintendo never spun them off into their own game. Penguin Butt Racing! Who wouldn't have paid to see that? Whatever psychedelic drugs Shigeru Miyamoto is passing around to his crew, it's definitely working. At the end of the game, Mario will reveal to you the nature of existence and the mind of God. And then go fish surfing.

This is a perfect example of the clever imagination that's so sorely missing from videogames today. Not that you need another old man childhood nostalgia lecture from me.

Super Swing Golf (Pangia 2nd Shot) Wii

Screens from Tecmo's newest golf game for the Wii, Pangia 2nd Shot. Otherwise known in the West by the drab-sounding Super Swing Golf 2. Ugh. Why do Americans always get the dull and watered-down names for these games? Nobody's expecting a serious simulation of the sport, ala Tiger Woods. It's a goofy burst of J-Pop fun. I say keep the original name.

The first game was just a port, so the follow-up should be a considerable improvement. Again, the Wiimote is perfect for sports games. Sports games are the most popular sellers in North America. Do the math, people.

This game really does look good. I'm perfectly fine with the cutesy look as long as it's done right. The color and details capture just enough of the classic arcade groove. Golf in the arctic? Sure, why not? Let's cross our fingers and hope for a hit.

No more screenshots. Psyche!

Batallion Wars 2 Wii

Ah, one of the earliest-announced Wii games makes its reappearance. Battalion Wars was a standout hit for the poor old Gamecube, so hopes are high for this sequel. Graphics look to be improved. Certainly won't be giving Halo 3 a run for its money, but it does look nice. Intelligent Systems has been Nintendo's ace in the hole for a number of years now, so we'll expect another hit game.

More screenshots here. Surprise, surprise.