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Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Review: Pikmin

Developer: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Genre: Real Time Strategy
System: GameCube (Also available on Wii)

Fun fact: Shigeru Miyamato (creator of Mario for the three of you that didn't know) likes to garden in his spare time. So it doesn't come as much of a surprise that his idea of a real time strategy games has no human soldiers to speak off (well, maybe one if you include the central protagonist). There are no tanks, bazookas or the usual types of weapons you find in a game like Command & Conquer or Advance Wars. In Pikmin, you wage war with small vegetable-like creatures. What they lack in size and artillery, they more than make up for in numbers and a well-crafted game.

While flying through space, Captain Olimar's ship, the Dolphin takes a hit from a meteor, which sends it spiraling out of control. When he comes to, the captain finds that his ship is a mere shell of it's former self, missing a grand total of 30 parts. The ship is capable of flying but without all of the proper pieces, it cannot maintain flight in space. To make matters worse, the planet that Olimar has crash landed on contains toxic air and his space suit's ability to keep out the poisonous oxygen will only last for 30 days. Fortunately for Olimar, the planet is teeming with friendly alien plant-like creatures known as Pikmin and they are more than willing to aid him in his quest for the missing ship pieces.

Pikmin come in three different types. Red Pikmin are the strongest fighters and are immune to fire. Yellow Pikmin can be thrown the highest and can carry bomb rocks, useful for breaking down walls that cannot be destroyed by the usual means. Blue Pikmin are the only type that won't drown in water. You can make as many of each type as you want, though you'll probably have the least yellows since they aren't required to use nearly as often as the blues and reds. Though there will be times where you'll have to use all three types of Pikmin effectively to get a ship part. Each Pikmin starts out with a leaf atop it's head. If left in the ground, over the time, the Pikmin will bloom into flowers, the best type of Pikmin. You can also feed leaf and bud Pikmin nectar to turn them into flower Pikmin. Flower Pikmin tend to be more focused than the leaf and bud times, so you should convert the Pikmin to flower types whenever you have a good opportunity.

The game takes place over the span of 30 game days, with the exception of the first day, which is more a less an tutorial, the rest of the 29 days are comprised of 13 minutes each. You'll want to accomplish as much as you can in each day but you shouldn't let the time limit scare you too much. Only 25 of the Dolphin's parts are mandatory to make the ship take off. The remaining five parts have no overall function to the ship. Getting all 30 parts does allow you to see the game's best ending and it is entirely possible to secure all 30 parts before you reach day 30, so in completing the game in a speedy fashion lies a bit of replay value.

Most of the ship's pieces are can be found while exploring the 5 different areas, but a few of the parts are held by hostile creatures, some that fall pretty easy, others, not so much. The general tactic to defeating enemies is throwing your Pikmin at it, but it isn't always that simple. At times you'll have to throw the Pikmin in harm's way before you expose an enemies' weak point and only then can he be slain. Red Pikmin may be the best fighters, but they aren't always the best choice to take in battle. In fact some areas, force you to rely on your other Pikmin types to obtain ship pieces. The fourth area in the game, the Distant Spring, houses a lot of water so you'll want to have lots of blue Pikmin for navigating the area and fighting.

It doesn't matter if you're moving a small group of Pikmin or an army of the cute little critters, the controls remain amazingly simple. With the touch of the A button you pluck the Pikmin from the ground, order them to swarm a foe, or carry a ship part back to base. It really is a easy as it sounds. You can control up to 100 Pikmin at once and easily dismiss them into groups. The B button whistles the Pikmin to your side and can be used on a single Pikmin, a small group, or a large group. If there's one hiccup to speak of, it would be controlling yellow Pikmin with bomb rocks. It's very easy to accidentally throw a much needed bomb rock at the wrong time and make you just one bomb short of destroying a blocked passage.

The Pikmin themselves are in a few words, absolutely adorable. Sure their entire purpose is that of a soldier, but I guarantee that you'll come to care for them more than any other trooper of a military based RTS game. Pikmin takes measures to make sure you care for the cute little guys as if they were your own children. Maybe it's the awww-inducing way they say "Hi!" when you pick them from the ground, or when they jump up and down triumphantly when they successfully get a ship part back to base, but I found myself showing more compassion for Pikmin than many other video game characters. And when a Pikmin falls in battle? The cries they give when the die always made me cringe. I felt even worse at the end of the day when Olimar took off at night and a stray Pikmin I forgot to collect was slaughtered by the vicious alien lifeforms that come to base at nightfall. So much so that I started checking the map for stray Pikmin. At one point I only had one stray and I went off to collect him because I didn't want anymore of my babies to die. Pikmin is video game caring potential incarnate.

For being a first generation GameCube title, Pikmin looks very impressive. Whether being viewed up close or from afar with the game's three different camera angels, the game's five different environments shine with enough detail to make you feel like you really are a small creature in a gigantic world. The water visuals in the Distant Spring are especially stunning. The game's musical score, composed my Haijime Wakai is outstanding and strikes a nice balance of upbeat and serene tracks.

Pikmin is a game that should be played by those that love RTS games and even those that don't really get into the genre. It is on the short side (10-12 hours at the most), but this is one of those fun, charming games that just about anyone can pick up and play. I so want to play Pikmin 2 now.


Screenshots from

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Review: Super Mario Bros. Virtual Console

System: NES
Genre: Platform
Devleoper: Nintendo
Publisher: Nintendo
Cost: 500 Points

The years was 1985. Nearly three years had passed since the North American video game market had crashed. If video games were going to have a future in America, something would have to be done to restore retailer and consumer faith. Nintendo already had a proven console hit on their hands with the Famicom in Japan but the American market was still highly skeptical. Long story short, the company changed the system's name from the Famicom to the Nintendo Entertainment System and to further make sure the console flew off the shelves, packaged it with a wonderful game called Super Mario Bros., a decision which could arguably be considered one of the smartest moves Nintendo has ever made. Not only did Super Mario Bros. revive gaming in the USA, it changed the face of gaming as a whole. It was also the first in a long line of platformers in a series that is still alive to this day.

Super Mario Bros. uses a very basic story. The princess of the Mushroom Kingdom is being held captive by the evil Koopa King, Bowser, and she awaits rescuing from Mario (and Luigi if you're playing a 2 player game). The excuse plot is not the reason people play Super Mario Bros. It's the gameplay. Spanning 8 worlds comprised of 32 levels, you scroll to the right stomping on Goombas, collecting power-ups, coins and bashing bricks to complete a level before time runs out. Sounds like pretty standard platform gaming fare, and it is today, but it's the marvelous level design and execution that helped to propel the game above anything that had previously come before it.

This is a game that is as fun as it is balanced. The first few worlds are easy but about mid-way through, the challenge ramps up, reaching it's peak with world 8, with fewer power ups, stricter time limits, trickier jumps and more annoying enemy placement. No matter what the game throws at you, it still remains fair.

Get used to hearing this line.
Secrets played just as large roll in the game as the general platform elements. You may jump up to find a hidden one-up block, or go down a pipe to skip a chunk of the level, or find a warp zone to skip a few worlds, bringing you a bit closer to the final levels. Warp Zones are good if you feel like beating the game quickly or if there are some worlds you don't want to bother with (I'm looking at you, World 7.)

The fastest way to earn lives if you
can pull it off.
Equally as important as Super Mario Bros'. gameplay is the music. Koji Kondo composed a musical score that is catchy and memorable to gamers and non-gamers alike. It really is interesting that the very first song you hear in the game is the most well-known and easily the most recognized song in gaming. It's gone by various names. "The Super Mario Bros. Theme", "Ground Theme," but this is a tune that is instantly familiar to anyone, even by merely playing the first 7 notes. Of course the rest of the game's music is just as memorable. The "Underground" theme, "Invincible" theme, "Underwater" music (despite the fact that I'm not overly fond of SMB's water levels) and even the "Game Over" jingle have always been personal favorites of mine. Actually, my love for video game music largely stems from Super Mario Bros. It was the first time video game music ever stayed in my head when I wasn't playing the game.

Super Mario Bros. has stood the test of time remarkably well. I've beaten it countless times, but I've yet to master it. I still can't complete the game without dying (even when I use warps) and I've yet to get the hang of the famous Koopa Troopa one-up trick. Even so, this is a game that I gladly come back to and always puts a smile on my face no matter how many times I play it. This game did spawn superior sequels, but it still remains of the finest games to carry the Mario name.


Screenshots taken from and Super Mario Wiki.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Keiji Inafune Leaves Capcom

So one of the big stories over the weekend was the announcement that Keiji Inafune has decided to call it quits with Capcom after working with the company for 23 years. While this may come as a surprise to many, not everyone was stunned by the news. Inafune has made known his frustration for working with Capcom, something I was not aware of until recently.

Personally, I was really shocked by the news. I feared for what would happen with Mega Man, but then I realized that Mega Man X8 turned out to be an awesome game and Inafune really wasn't even involved with it, so I'm certain that Mega Man will be fine and so will Capcom.

Wherever he goes from here, I wish Inafune nothing but the best.