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No ‘Star Fox Zero’ this year? No problem! – Part 2: Overlooked Wii U gems

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With a library of titles that, according to sales numbers, many have not checked out, any quiet spots in the Wii U’s release schedule can easily be filled in and then some just by looking back at what you may have missed.

Overlooked Gems

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Pikmin 3

With the next game reportedly almost finished, maybe this winter is a good time to cozy up with Olimar’s last intergalactic outing. You know, the one that fans had been supposedly pining over for years, then didn’t buy when it finally came out? It’s not too late (at least for a digital copy) to experience the mesmerizing spell cast by the lush, vibrant ecosystems, the addicting complexity of managing a three-member team of fruit miners, aided in their hunt for sweet, life-giving juice by the native population of plant creatures. The challenge of collecting enough resources to survive can seem intimidating at first, but after a while juggling back and forth between space explorers and their teams of unwitting servants becomes second nature, and wasted days can be replayed to maximize efficiency. Or you could grow a conscience and go back to save those innocent little Pikmin you left to die at sundown, abandoned and eaten while you watched from the safety of your orbiting rocket. You monster.

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Bayonetta 2

Platinum Games’ sequel surpassed the original in every way possible, upping the crazy action by a factor of ten, pumping the gorgeous visuals full of color and life, and delivering even more of the kind of sassy innuendo that will have you awkwardly looking over your shoulder to make sure no one walks in and misconstrues what you’re up to. The amount of variety keeps the deep-as-you-want-it-to-be combat fresh, and an incredibly forgiving ability to change the difficulty level allows players of all skill to experience the thrills, hardcore or not. Yeah, the English kid is annoying, but he’s easy to overlook when there’s so much awesome squeezed into every bit of screen around him. As a bonus, it even includes the original game, fun in its own right. Why haven’t you bought this yet?

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Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker

If you played Super Mario 3D World, surely you remember those clever breaks from the platforming action where a headlamp-sporting Captain Toad courageously made his way through diorama-like stages to nab more stars for Mario? They had many gamers wishing for an entire game based on these scenarios, and thankfully Nintendo complied with one of the most adorable puzzle games ever. Using the gamepad (or analog sticks) to manipulate the view in order to uncover secrets and hidden paths increases the sense of discovery, and mini challenges within the level give extra replay incentive. While many of the early puzzles might be on the easier side, later bonus stages really test the Cap’s mettle, and the cleverness packed into such a small space can’t help but be enjoyed.

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Lego City Undercover

The best single-player Lego game around, period. Taking the basic gameplay of most entries in the series, adding Arkham-inspired combat and parkour trials, and applying them to a colorful Babe: Pig in the City urban amalgamation of New York, San Francisco, and Venice (among others), produces a sandbox that feels like Nintendo magic. Refreshingly original characters populate a witty story that elicits genuine laughs, spouting gleefully ridiculous puns alongside physical comedy that would make Buster Keaton smile. The gamepad functions as a map, communicator, and scanner, offering some clever immersion. All abilities are contained within easily swappable costumes, so no more watching your AI companion get stuck in a continuous loop of falling to his or her blocky death. On a personal note, the game’s world is so alive and filled with charming surprises around every corner that this is the only collect-a-thon I’ve ever achieved 100% on. It’s that fun.

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Scribblenauts Unlimited

Type in anything you can think of and watch it come to video game life! Well, maybe not anything (especially if it involves curse words), but an amazing number of nouns can be conjured in pixel form to help Maxwell achieve his goal of saving his sister from being turned to stone because of a stupid prank they played on a wizard guy. This time adjectives can be used to make that snowman suspicious or that soda can angry. The puzzles are never a problem, as often as you can use the same items over and over (jetpack), but part of the fun comes from experimenting on what happens when you bring things to life. Want to see God fight an atheist? Type them both in and watch. Make an ape into a giant ape so he can live out his dream of climbing the Empire State Building, then send in a biplane and wait for the tragedy. Many Nintendo characters were licensed, and seeing Link riding Epona to take on Ganon is great mayhem. Scribblenauts games are what you make of them, whether just goofing around or playing the completionist, and Unlimited is the series at its best.

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The Wonderful 101

If you’re looking for a game that uses the Wii U gamepad in new and inventive ways, this is a good bet. The title refers to the mob of superhero characters you control in this insane actioner, each with their own set of unique transformations. Activating powers is only a crudely-drawn shape away, as you battle an invasion by over-the-top alien overlords with outrageous destructive forces of your own, and combo-based attacks similar to Bayonetta. I’m not sure which side is most responsible for the razing of Earth, frankly, but once again developer Platinum has come up with creative ways to blow shit up, and these eye-popping moments keep the game compelling, even when the touch controls struggle to register. Not for everyone, but with a dedicated following on Nintendo subreddits, TW101 is one of the most unique games on the system, and definitely worth a shot. Preferably from a massive laser canon or missile launcher.

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Rayman Legends

Don’t let the controversy with Ubisoft reneging on the Wii U exclusivity and delaying the release to coincide with other platforms get in the way of experiencing this gorgeous, funny, amazing sequel to the acclaimed Origins. The game was made to take advantage of the gamepad, something never more obvious than when player two steps in and takes control of Murfy, the goofy greenbottle. Touching the screen allows Murfy to perform a variety of actions in order to aid his teammate, from cutting ropes, activating switches, and even grabbing (or tickling) enemies to render them harmless. Featuring over 120 levels, each with a rich, hand-drawn style full of vivid color and clever traps, a weird soccer-like bonus game, and an “Eye of the Tiger” rhythm stage, this is one of the best platformers on a system with a ton of great ones.

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Little Inferno

With Human Resource Machine dropping October 15th and now confirmed for the Wii U, those who passed up Tomorrow Corporation’s launch release for the system should check out this “game” about burning everything possible in your Little Inferno brand fireplace. Use the gamepad stylus to drag objects over, flip them around, and flip through a catalog of orderable kindling, with items like Someone Else’s Family Portrait, Disgruntled Elf Plushie, and Best Friend Supplement Pills all available to set fire to. Dryly funny descriptions and a variety of combustion effects create soothing eye candy against the backdrop of a surprisingly haunting story of a young boy in a dying world. It’s lack of any kind of failure may turn some off, but for those more goal-oriented, there are numerous clever achievements attained by burning certain items together to form combos. As old as the Wii U itself, Little Inferno still remains one of the weirdest, singular, and oddly satisfying experiences on the platform.

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The Swapper

One of the most atmospheric, absorbing puzzle games I’ve ever played, with simple mechanics providing the basis upon which the game’s often challenging head-scratchers are built. A cloning gun allows the mysterious, space-suited protagonist to create clones of themselves and then swap consciousness with those creations, all in order to escape a ship deep in the cosmos before disaster strikes. Assets scanned from clay models make up the eerily tactile world, supporting the creepy, existential story that muses on the nature of the soul. The puzzle rooms are ingeniously designed, and before the game is over you will have sent possibly hundreds of clones to their deaths. Should you feel bad about that?

These are only a taste of some underrated reasons why we love Nintendo’s latest system. I could’ve easily included exclusives like Kirby and the Rainbow Curse or Hyrule Warriors, and excellent indie ports like Stealth Inc 2: A Game of Clones, Guacamelee!, and countless others to lengthen the list even further. Don’t worry about Star Fox; it’ll come around eventually. In the meantime, explore the quality library already available that Nintendo’s system has quietly built. If your Wii U needs dusting off, now you’ve got your excuse!

Patrick Murphy grew up in the hearty Midwest, where he spent many winter hours watching movies and playing video games while waiting for baseball season to start again. When not thinking of his next Nintendo post or writing screenplays to satisfy his film school training, he’s getting his cinema fix as the Editor of Sordid Cinema, Goomba Stomp's Film and TV section.

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Most Important Games of the Decade: ‘Dark Souls’

Despite the difficulty and learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the Dark Souls series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers.

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Dark Souls Remastered Review Nintendo Switch

Over the course of the last decade a lot of games have made large and influential impacts on the medium of gaming but few have done so as significantly or triumphantly as Dark Souls

The pseudo-sequel to Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls took the framework of the original title and altered it considerably. Gone were the many individual stages and hub area, replaced by a massive open world that continuously unfolded, via shortcuts and environmental changes, like a massive metroidvania style map. 

Dark Souls also doubled down on nearly every aspect of the original. The lore and world-building were elaborated on considerably, making the land of Lordran feel more lived in and expansive. An entire backstory for the game, one that went back thousands of years, was created and unfolded through small environmental details and item descriptions. 

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The bosses were bigger, meaner and more challenging, with some of them ranking right up there with the best of all time. Even standard enemies seemed to grow more deadly as the game went on, with many of them actually being bosses you’d faced at an earlier time in the game. Tiny details like this didn’t just make the player feel more powerful, they added to the outright scale of the entire game.

Still, if we’re here to talk about the biggest influence Dark Souls had on the gaming world, we have to talk about the online system. While the abilities to write messages and summon help were available in Demon’s Souls, Dark Souls improved on and enhanced these features to the point where they changed the game considerably. 

The wider player base made the online components work more consistently as well. Rarely were players left standing around for 15-20 minutes waiting to summon or be summoned for a boss fight. There were more messages on the ground to lead (or mislead) players, and the animated spirits of dead players warned of the hundreds of ways you might die while playing through the game. 

Dark Souls

The addictive nature of the game and its rewarding gameplay loop would lead to the establishment of the Souls-like genre. Like with metroidvania, there are few compliments a game can receive that are as rewarding as having an entire genre named for them.

Since 2011, the year of Dark Souls’ release, dozens of Souls-likes have emerged from the ether, each with their own little tweaks on the formula. Salt and Sanctuary went 2D,The Surge added a sci-fi angle, and Nioh went for a feudal Japanese aesthetic, to name just a few. 

Either way, Dark Souls’ influence has been long felt in the gaming industry ever since. Despite the hardcore difficulty and intense learning curve, gamers are still flocking to the series, and the genre it spawned, in massive numbers. For this reason alone, Dark Souls will live on forever in the annals of gaming history. 

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Game Reviews

‘Riverbond’ Review: Colorful Hack’n’Slash Chaos

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Sometimes a little bit of mindless smashing is just what people play video games for, and if some light sword-swinging, spear-stabbing, laser-shooting giant hand-slapping action that crumbles a destructible world into tiny blocks sounds like a pleasant way to spend a few hours, then Riverbond might just satisfy that urge. Though its short campaign can get a little repetitive by the end, colorful voxel levels and quirky characters generally make this rampaging romp a button-mashing good time, especially if you bring along a few friends.

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There really isn’t much of a story here outside something about some mystical leaders being imprisoned by a knight, and Riverbond lets players choose from its eight levels in Mega Man fashion, so don’t go in expecting some sort of narrative thread. Instead, each land has its own mini-situation going on, whether that involves eradicating some hostile pig warriors or reading library books or freeing numerous rabbit villagers scattered about, the narrative motivation is pretty light here. That doesn’t mean that these stages don’t each have their various charms, however, as several punnily named NPCs will blurt out humorous bits of dialogue that work well as breezy pit stops between all the cubic carnage.

Developer Cococucumber has also wisely created plenty of visual variety for their fantastical world, as players will find their polygonal hero traversing the lush greenery of grassy plains, the wooden piers of a ship’s dockyard, the surrounding battlements of a medieval castle, and the craggy outcroppings of a snowy mountain, among other locations, each with a distinct theme. Many of the trees or bridges or crates or whatever else happens to be lying around are completely destructible, able to be razed to the ground with enough brute force. Occasionally the physics involved in these crumbling structures helps gain access to jewels or other loot, but this mechanic mostly just their for the visual appeal one gets from cascading blocks; Riverbond isn’t exactly deep in its design.

Riverbond boss

That shallowness also applies to the basic gameplay, which pretty much involves hacking or shooting enemies and environments to pieces, activating whatever task happens to be the main goal for each sub-stage, then moving on or scouring around a bit for treasure before finally arriving at a boss. Though there are plenty of different weapons to find, they generally fall into only a few categories: small swinging implements that allow for quick slashes, large swinging implements that are slow but deal heavier damage, spears that offer quick jabs, or guns that…shoot stuff. There are some variations among these in speed, power, and possible side effects (a gun that fired electricity is somewhat weak, but sticks to opponents and gives off an extra, devastating burst), but once an agreeable weapon is found, there is little reason to give it up outside experimentation.

Still, there is a rhythmic pleasure to be found in games like this when they are done right, and Riverbond mostly comes through with tight controls, hummable tunes, and twisting levels that do a good job of mixing in some verticality to mask the repetitiveness. It’s easy for up to four players to get in on the dungeon-crawling-like pixelated slaughter, and the amount of blocks exploding onscreen can make for some fun and frenzied fireworks, especially when whomping on one of the game’s giant bosses. A plethora of skins for the hero are also discoverable, with at least one or two tucked away in locations both obvious and less so around each sub-stage. These goofy characters exist purely for aesthetic reasons, but those who prefer wiping out legions of enemies dressed as Shovel Knight or a sentient watermelon slice will be able to fulfill that fantasy.

Riverbond bears

By the end, the repetitive fights and quests can make Rivebond feel a little same-y, but the experience wraps up quickly without dragging things out. This may disappoint players looking for a more involved adventure, but those who sometimes find relaxation by going on autopilot — especially with some buddies on the couch — will appreciate how well the block-smashing basics are done here.

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Game Reviews

‘Earthnight’ Review: Hit the Dragon Running

Between its lush visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, Earthnight never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

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Earthnight

In Earthnight, you do one thing: run. There’s not much more to do in this roguelike auto-runner but to dash across the backs of massive dragons to reach their heads and strike them down. This may be an extremely simple gameplay loop, but Earthnight pulls it off with such elegance and style. Between its lush comic book visuals and its constantly evolving gameplay, it creates an experience that never gets old, from the first dragon you slay to the hundredth.

Dragons have descended from space and are wreaking havoc upon humanity. No one is powerful enough to take them down – except for the two-player characters, Sydney and Stanley, of course. As the chosen ones to save the human race, they must board a spaceship and drop from the heavens while slaying as many dragons on your way down as they can. For every defeated creature, they’ll be rewarded with water – an extremely precious resource in the wake of the dragon apocalypse. This resource can be exchanged for upgrades that make the next run that much better.

This simple story forms the basis for a similarly basic, yet engaging gameplay loop. Each time you dive from your spaceship, you’ll see an assortment of dragons to land on. Once you make a landing, you’ll dash across its back and avoid the obstacles it throws at you before reaching its head, where you’ll strike the final blow. Earthnight is procedurally generated, so every time you leap down from your home base, there’s a different set of dragons to face, making each run feel unique. There are often special rewards for hunting specific breeds of dragon, so it’s always exciting to see the new set of creatures before you and hunt for the one you need at any given moment.

Earthnight is an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.”

Earthnight

Landing on the dragons is only the first step to slaying them. Entire hordes of monsters live on their backs, and in true auto-runner fashion, they’ll rush at you with reckless abandon from the very start. During the game’s first few runs, the onrush of enemies can feel overwhelming. Massive crowds of them will burst forth at once, and it can feel impossible to survive their onslaughts. However, this is where Earthnight begins to truly shine. The more dragons you slay, the more upgrade items become available, which are either given as rewards for slaying specific dragons or can be purchased with the water you’ve gained in each run. Many of these feel essentially vital for progression – some allow you to kill certain enemies just by touching them, whereas others can grant you an additional jump, both of which are much appreciated in the utter chaos of obstacles found on each dragon.

Procedural generation can often result in bland or repetitive level design, but it’s this item progression system that keeps Earthnight from ever feeling dry. It creates a constant sense of improvement: with more items in your arsenal after each new defeated dragon, you’ll be able to descend even further in the next run. This makes every level that much more exciting: with more power under your belt, there are greater possibilities for defeating enemies, stacking up combos, or climbing high above the dragons. It becomes an acrobatic, dragon-hunting ballet that only becomes more beautifully extravagant with every run.

Earthnight

At its very best, Earthnight feels like a rhythm game. With the perfect upgrades for each level, it becomes only natural to bounce off of enemies’ heads and soar through the heavens with an almost musical flow. The vibrant chiptune soundtrack certainly helps with this. Packed full of driving beats and memorable melodies with a mixture of chiptune and modern instrumentation, the music makes it easy to charge forward through whatever each level will throw your way.

That is not to say that Earthnight never feels too chaotic for its own good – rather, there are some points where its flood of enemies and obstacles can feel too random or overwhelming, to the point where it can be hard to keep track of your character or feel as if it’s impossible to avoid enemies. Sometimes the game can’t even keep up with itself, with the performance beginning to chug once enemies crowd the screen too much, at least in the Switch version. However, this is the exception, rather than the rule, and for the most part, simply making good use of its upgrades and reacting quickly to the challenges before you will serve you well in your dragon-slaying quest.

Earthnight

Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.”

It certainly helps that Earthnight is a visual treat as well. It adopts a striking comic book style, in which nearly every frame of animation is lovingly hand-drawn and loaded with detail. Sometimes these details feel a bit excessive – some characters are almost grotesquely detailed, with the faces of the bobble-headed protagonists sometimes seeming too elaborate for comfort. However, in general, it’s a gorgeous game, with its luscious backdrops of deep space and high sky, along with creative monsters and dragon designs that only get more outlandish and spectacular the farther down you soar.

Earthnight is a competent auto-runner that might not revolutionize its genre, but it makes up for this simplicity by elegantly executing its core gameplay loop so that it constantly changes yet remains endlessly addictive. Its excellent visual and audio presentation helps to make it all the more engrossing, while it strikes the perfect balance between randomized level design and permanent progression thanks to its items and upgrades system. At times it may get too chaotic for its own good, but all told, Earthnight is a race that’s worth running time and time again.

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