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‘Paper Mario: Color Splash’ – A Different Coat of Paint

After three years, thousands of angry fans, and a whole new console, Nintendo and Intelligent Systems should have realized that only a true Paper Mario game would satisfy their masses. But, they decided to stick with their guns and keep with the formula that made Sticker Star (the previous entry in the series) so hated.

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After three years, thousands of angry fan complants, and a whole new console, Nintendo and Intelligent Systems should have realized that only a true Paper Mario game would satisfy their masses. Instead, they decided to stick to their guns and keep with the formula that made Sticker Star (the previous entry in the series) so hated. They had something to prove: that they could make a Paper Mario game as fun and endearing as the original two entries while also delving far away from the standard RPG formula. Unfortunately, Color Splash doesn’t prove their point.

Color Splash has two sides to it, and they’re the same that every turn-based RPG has: an overworld and battles. The former is brilliant. Paper Mario is now in high definition and it looks absolutely gorgeous. Sticker Star had a lot going against it, but its visuals were certainly a plus. Seeing these paper, cardboard worlds come to beautiful, fully realized high definition on the Wii U is nothing short of breathtaking. Intelligent Systems manages to pack each level with countless endearing, paper-craft details. The rivers are flowing sheets of paper, the sun and clouds are cardboard cutouts attached to the ceiling by strings, and the background is completely flat, making it feel as though each level were taking place inside of a giant shoe box. It’d be easy just to sit for hours and notice all of the hand-made nooks and crannies. All of this is aided by a soundtrack that is simply whimsical and surrounds each environment with absolute personality, completing this whole aesthetic package.

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Of course, the environments aren’t much without their inhabitants, and each one you meet will either have you actually laughing or experiencing an existential meltdown. The folks over at Nintendo Treehouse really knocked it out of the park this time, as every word slipping out of every NPC’s mouth is genius. Despite the fact that practically every NPC is either a toad or a staple Mario enemy, they all manage to be either wholly unique or just good for a laugh. Yes, this writing may be the best in the entire series, even trumping the original two. It’s what kept me going throughout this journey. It feels similar to the humor found in Pixar and Disney movies, as certain elements are specifically catered towards adults. While the visuals and setting are certainly more child-friendly, some of this dialogue could never be understood by anyone under fifteen.

Sticker Star is bashed for having practically no story, and Color Splash slightly improves in that way. The story has an actual effect on the levels. A lot of Prism Island’s color has been drained, and it’s up to Mario to fix it, so while exploring you can repaint certain spots for bonuses. This is essentially the overarching theme, so a lot of the side quests usually have to do with repainting something or someone. Prism Island is amazingly established as well. Plot threads here and there connect to elements 10 hours later in the game, fleshing out the world and making it feels like a completely cohesive journey.

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Unfortunately, these are the extent of Color Splash’s good qualities. As mentioned earlier, it has two sides: the overworld and the battles. The battles are what make this game so agonizing to play. They’re absolutely broken.

The problems stem from the consumable actions. Once called “stickers” and now known as “cards,” these consumable actions are exactly what they sound like. As soon as the player performs one of them, that’s it. That specific jump, hammer, fire flower, whatever card is gone for good. Clearly, this decision was made with strategy in mind, forcing the player to plan ahead and  use whatever cards to finish the battle as efficiently as possible. But little strategy can be set forth when the enemy up next is completely unpredictable. They don’t know whether or not to hold onto that hammer card just in case it’s the next enemy’s only weakness or use it because their only alternative is a jump card that may be needed for an entirely different enemy.

Then there are the bosses: each one has its own little trick and can only be defeated by using a specific Thing Card that can be found throughout the overworld. Luckily, a Toad can be found who will drop hints as to what Thing Card the player needs and where to find them. This is an improvement over Sticker Star, where the player was forced to wander aimlessly until they came upon the Thing that they needed. Though, this toad can’t help in one area: when during the boss fight to use the Thing Card. As stated earlier, if the player uses a card it’s gone for good, so if they accidentally use that crucial, necessary thing card at the wrong point during the battle, they have to reset and start the entire thing from the beginning. This can lead to some extremely frustrating moments and definitely hampers a lot of the cooler boss fights.

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Color Splash tries to fix this battle system in four ways. The first being the hint Toad mentioned earlier. The second being the expansion of the number of maximum cards the player can hold. The player feels pressure to hold as many stickers as possible in the last game. Color Splash is no different. Even though I could hold 99 cards from the get-go, I still wanted to save every card I came across, meaning that getting into battles was generally frustrating because I had to waste precious cards. In the case of Sticker Star, practically nothing was earned from battles since there was absolutely no EXP, and Color Splash’s attempt at fixing that is fruitless.

This time around, enemies drop upgrades which slowly increase the maximum paint that can be held. Paint is used to power up certain blank cards, so this sounds like a worthwhile solution at first. But, about halfway through the game, I noticed that paint mattered less and less by the minute. Because there are so many ways to earn coins (hundreds can be obtained in the environment, as the prize for winning Roshambo tournaments, or from defeating enemies), it’s easy to buy the pre-painted versions of these blank cards. At this point, I had increased my paint levels to a maximum of three hundred, so I never actually ran out. Items to refuel paint are abundant and paint droplets that fill up the gauges are everywhere. The point is, paint doesn’t matter. And because paint doesn’t matter, Color Splash’s replacement for EXP doesn’t matter, and consequently, battling doesn’t matter.

Finally, Color Splash‘s fourth attempt at fixing the system: the battle spinner. This allows the player to semi-randomly select from an assortment of cards in a slot machine-like fashion. They also have the option to slow down the spinner and flip the cards over, at the cost of some extra coins, basically allowing them to choose their card. This is meant to help the player in case they run out of cards or just don’t want to use one that they’re saving. Keep in mind that because of the huge amount of cash thrown at them, they should have no problem just paying extra and choosing their card. So, if the player is allowed to practically select their next action without really losing anything, why not just import a regular battle system? There’s no point in having these consumable actions when they have access to nearly limitless cards during battle. Granted, the battle spinner can be used once per turn, but often it will have a Thing Card that can wipe the entire field. There’s no point to it!

Color Splash was admittedly close to proving what Intelligent systems wanted, but it failed. It only proved one thing: this essentially broken battle system can never be fixed. Sticker Star didn’t need a fresh coat of paint, it needed to be thrown in the trash.

Ricardo Rodriguez may have a near crippling addiction to video games, but at least he can pull himself away long enough to write something about them. His slowly deteriorating corneas won’t stop him from following his passion, and he’s got a semi-adequate haircut to boot! If you can’t find him withering away in front of a game store at five in the morning, he’s either writing for Goomba Stomp or on his blog flipsidegamereviews.com

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Game Reviews

‘Donkey Kong Country’ – Still as Difficult, Demanding and Amazing to This Day

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Donkey Kong Country

Donkey Kong Country: 25 Years Later

Back in 1994, Nintendo was struggling with their 16-bit Super Nintendo Entertainment System, which wasn’t selling as well as they’d hoped it would. With the release of the Saturn and Playstation on the horizon, the Super Nintendo needed a visually impressive and original title to reinforce its market dominance. After three years of intense competition and heated rivalries, Nintendo desperately needed a hit that could prove the Super NES could output graphics on the same level as the forthcoming 32-bit consoles. They teamed up with Rare to produce Donkey Kong Country, a Mario-style platformer, and the rest, as they say, is history.

Donkey Kong Country is a game held in high regard and with reason. Monumental! Monstrous! Magnificent! Use any term you want, there’s no denying how important this game was for Nintendo and Rare. The graphics for the time were above and beyond anything anyone would imagine possible for the 16-bit system. For a two-dimensional side-scroller, Donkey Kong Country conveys a three-dimensional sense of dept. The characters are fluidly animated and the rich tropical environments make use of every visual effect in the Super NES’s armory. Each stage has its own theme, forcing players to swim underwater, navigate through a misty swamp, swing from vines, or transport DK using a set of barrels (cannons) to advance. And let’s not forget the mine cart stages where you ride on rails and use your quick reflexes to successfully reach the end. Every level has little nooks and crannies too, hiding secret areas and passageways that lead to bonus games where you can earn bananas and balloons, which you can trade in for additional lives. And in Donkey Kong Country, you’re not alone; your simian sidekick Diddy tags along for the adventure. You control one character at a time, and each has his own unique strengths. Donkey Kong can dispatch larger enemies with his giant fists, while Diddy can jump a little higher than his bulky cousin. It isn’t the most original platforming feature, but it works. The two heroes can also rely on various animal friends to help guide them through their adventure. Predating Super Mario World: Yoshi’s Island, Diddy and DK can also ride on the backs of Rambi the Rhino, Winky the Frog, Enguarde the Swordfish and more!

What’s really impressive about Donkey Kong Country is how it has withstood the passage of time. In 1994, Donkey Kong Country’s visuals were spectacular with its rendered 3D models, lively character animations, detailed backgrounds, and a lush jungle setting, and while some would argue the game is dated, in my eyes it still looks great to this day. Kong has heart, and he’s willing to show it in a game made with wit, excitement and moments of visionary beauty. Meanwhile, the soundtrack by David Wise is guaranteed to win listener’s over. Practically every piece on the soundtrack exudes a certain lyricism that has become a staple of Rare’s games – from its upbeat tropical introduction to the unforgettable climax which secures its place as one of the Super Nintendo’s most memorable boss fights. The result is an apt accompaniment to the colorful characters, tropical landscape, and tomfoolery that proceeds.

What really stands out the most about Donkey Kong Country after all of these years is just how challenging this game is.

But what really stands out the most after all of these years is just how challenging this game is. Donkey Kong Country is a platformer you can only finish through persistence and with a lot of patience. Right from the start, you’re in for one hell of a ride. In fact, some of the hardest levels come early on. There are constant pitfalls and Donkey Kong can only take a single hit before he loses a life. If your companion Diddy is following you he will take over but then if he takes a single hit you lose a life and it’s back to the start of a level. Needless to say, the game is unforgiving and requires quick reflexes and precise pattern memorization to continue. This game requires so much fine precision that it will definitely appeal to hardcore platforming veterans looking for a challenge and those that do are in for one hundred eighty minutes of mesmerization, astonishment, thrills, chills, spills, kills and ills. The only real downfall of Donkey Kong Country is the boss battles. Yes, Donkey Kong Country gave us some memorable villains such as Dumb Drum (a giant Oil Drum that spawns enemies after it hits the floor), and The Kremling King (who is responsible for stealing Donkey Kong’s Banana Hoard), but these enemies have very basic attack patterns and far too easy to defeat.

It’s one of the rare, great works of art that stands up endlessly despite repeated playthroughs, each time revealing something new.

Donkey Kong Country

Along with its two SNES sequels, Donkey Kong Country is one of the defining platformers for the SNES. The game looks great and sounds great and the platforming, while incredibly difficult, is still very fun. Rare did the unexpected by recasting a classic Nintendo villain as the titular hero and it paid off in spades. It’s one of the rare, great works of art that stands up endlessly despite repeated playthroughs, each time revealing something new.

The beauty of the original is that there’s more to it than the oversized gorilla. Donkey Kong Country is truly amazing!

– Ricky D

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Game Reviews

‘New Super Lucky’s Tale’ is Polished, Pleasing Platforming

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Streamlined, focused, and tons of fun, New Super Lucky’s Tale is a fantastic reworking for the Switch that absolutely nails the lighter side of Nintendo-style 3D platforming. Tight controls and a nearly flawless camera support running and jumping challenges which more often than not emphasize creativity over complexity, and it’s all set against a colorful, pun-filled, charming world full of quirky characters and light satire. Though the experience is not as epic or razzle-dazzle as something like Super Mario Odyssey, developer Playful has wisely trimmed the collect-a-thon fat that so many others in the genre employ in order to pad play time. The result lasts long enough to satisfy, yet also instills a fervent desire to see more adventures from its fearless, furry hero.

New Super Lucky's Tale carnival

In the fine tradition of its gaming ancestors dating back to the N64 days, the basics of New Super Lucky’s Tale revolve around acquiring arbitrary objects sprinkled through various stages in order to unlock doors and move on to the next area. This time it’s pages from the mystical Book of Ages, which contains the power to travel between worlds, and is the endgame of an nefarious cat sorcerer named Jinx and his gang of cartoonish thugs, the Kitty Litter. As part of a secret organization sworn to defending this kiddie-friendly Necronomicon knockoff, it’s up to Lucky to track down as many of these clover-embossed pages as he possibly can, and hopefully complete the book before his nemesis can get his claws on it.

It’s doubtful that the story will be what compels most players to keep going, and to that end, New Super Lucky’s Tale‘s simple setup also fits right in with its genre brethren. Still, Lucky is an amiable and upbeat fox to follow around, and Playful does an excellent job of surrounding him with a cast of gibberish-spouting weirdo goofballs that includes hayseed grub worms, supremely zen Yetis, loyal rock golems, and slick carny ghosts. Though their dialogue does little to drive any sort of narrative, it is endlessly amusing and often witty in its cheesy wordplay. In other words, the writing has a very Nintendo-like feel in its eccentricities that adds to the overall fun.

New Super Lucky's Tale factory

Those jokes would be less endearing without fantastic gameplay, but New Super Lucky’s Tale delivers some of the best running and jumping this side of Mario. Though this fabulous fox can’t quite match the plumber’s precision, Lucky does feel extremely responsive, and has a nice sense of weight and momentum that never feels out of control. He also comes out of the den with a well-rounded moveset, including a nifty double jump, a swishy tail (a la Mario’s spin punch), and the ability to burrow under ground. These moves can be chained together to create a satisfying flow both when exploring 3D stages and side-scrolling ones alike, and will surely inspire players to use them in creative ways in order to access seemingly out-of-reach spots.

And they’ll have to if they want to find all four pages hidden in each stage. New Super Lucky’s Tale requires a bare minimum of these leaflets to be found (and simply beating the stage merits one as a reward), but it’s in rooting around those nooks and crannies where much of the fun lies, and it gives the developer a chance to squeeze every ounce out of the unique mixture of environments they’ve created. From the assorted carnival games of a haunted amusement park to a beach party dance-off, there are a surprising amount of different things for Lucky (and players) to do here, with hardly any two stages ever feeling alike. One 3D level might task Lucky with casually exploring a farm as he gathers up the members of country jug band, while a side-scrolling obstacle course sees him dodging canon fire from an airship piloted by a feline Napolean. Some stages have a platforming bent, while others emphasize searching out secrets tucked away in mini puzzles.

New Super Lucky's Tale farm

It’s an absolutely delightful mix, and that sheer variety keeps New Super Lucky’s Tale fresh all the way through to the epic battle with fat cat Jinx himself. And though platforming veterans might find the overall challenge a bit too much on the friendly side, a few of the later bosses and and bonus stages may make that 100% goal a little tougher than it at first seems. And yet, it’s hard not to want to go back to incomplete stages or that block-pushing puzzle that stumped the first time around; the brisk pace and clever design will likely compel many players to find every scrap of paper out there.

No, Lucky isn’t the second coming of Mario, but there are few 3D platformers that offer such a polished, concise, joyful experience as New Super Lucky’s Tale. It may have taken a couple of efforts to get there (and for those who have played the original Super Lucky’s Tale, levels and bosses have been reworked here), but Playful has nailed a balance between creativity and efficiency that begs for more. 

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Game Reviews

‘Woven’ Review: Comfortably Soft and Lumpy

Despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure.

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With a sincere warmth and fuzziness that conjures up dreamy recollections of 3D games gone by, Alterego GamesWoven mostly overcomes its blurry visuals and technical jankery to somehow create a pleasant, old-fashioned experience. Those excited by modern gaming probably won’t give this lovable hand-me-down a second look, and perhaps they shouldn’t; extremely simple actions and soothing narration support a fairy tale quality that’s probably best suited to younger players. However, anyone willing to look past the well-worn exterior in search of a relaxing break from stressful button pushing may squeeze more fun out of this familiar stuffed toy than they might originally expect.

Woven tasks players with taking control of a meandering patchwork elephant named Stuffy, and guiding him through a sparsely populated knitted world that seems to have met an untimely demise. Because Stuffy has cotton for brains, he is assisted on this journey by a much smarter metal firefly named Glitch (a reference to his role in this story?), who floats alongside the curious-but-clumsy plush toy and provides hints as to how he can use his various abilities. Together, this odd couple will traverse open plains blanketed with colorful yarn grass, maneuver around impassable felt trees and plants, and hopefully discover the secret of where Stuffy’s clueless kin have all gone.

Along the way, the duo will walk great distances (often without much event), solve the occasional environmental puzzle, and generally just keep on keepin’ on.Woven is mostly straightforward in its campaign, merely about getting from point A to B by whatever means the path requires. Most often this involves finding new blueprints that allow players to change Stuffy’s design from an elephant into a wide variety of other animal shapes, each with a set of abilities that come with a new set of arms, legs, and a head. For instance, while the stocky (and adorable) bear can push plush boulders and perform a mighty stomp, the goat and frog can both use their legs to hop, while the kitty cat is able to push buttons on rusted consoles that activate dormant machinery.

However, these abilities are usually only able to activate when context-sensitive prompts from Glitch appear, so don’t expect some sort of platforming freedom. Woven handles a bit clumsily in that regard and others; strolling is definitely the order of the day, as long as Stuffy doesn’t get hung up on the geometry.

But these actions do help provide variety; a tropical bird of some sort (toucan, maybe?) can sing certain notes, while a pelican-thing can fly (sort of) over land and shallow water with great speed. And so, it often becomes necessary in Woven to alter Stuffy’s look with a total reweave. These designs can be applied at various sewing machine-like stations scattered about, which go a step further than just swapping Stuffy the deer for Stuffy the ape. Each blueprint is comprised of five parts, allowing for players to create a Frankenstein Stuffy made up of all the best abilities the player has on hand (or cushioned paw). By mixing certain sets, Stuffy will soon be able to scale mountainside crags, cross piranha-filled rivers, and pick up industrial cogs without the need to make a pit stop and bust out new needle and thread.

Some truly hilarious (or horrifying, depending on your sensibilities) aberrations can be created; seeing Stuffy hobble on hooves as he flaps a wing on one side and swings a muscular gorilla arm on the other, all with the head of a squirrel, is freakishly entertaining. In addition, for those who like to wander off the beaten path, there are a plethora of knitting patterns to discover, tucked away in both obvious and devious locations (and denizens). These cosmetic enhancements can also be applied at the sewing stations, essentially giving players seemingly endless amounts of customization. And these aesthetic changes even get in on the puzzle act every once in a while, especially when a pesky cobra shows up.

But outside the odd ‘connect the power line’ or ‘raise and lower platforms’ objectives, Woven doesn’t throw much at players that even young children shouldn’t be able to handle — and that seems to be the aim. Stuffy’s adventure lives or dies on its wholesome and serene vibe, which players either buy into or they don’t. There’s no combat here, very little to actually do outside hunting down those patterns, illuminating some painted caves, and activating some of Glitch’s ‘memories’ contained by machines hidden in the soft folds. Ongoing narration is pleasant to the ears, often conveying old-fashioned morals and cutesy jokes, but there’s no more story than in a classic fable.

And make no mistake — though the world is certainly bright and cheerful, it’s also quite fuzzy around the edges. The tactile nature of the cloth textures is lessened greatly by the low definition (at least on the Switch version), eliciting memories of the Wii-era. An increased crispness would have really made the world of Woven pop off the screen, perhaps luring in a larger audience who have become accustomed to such. There is still plenty of charm, but it feels like a missed chance at that true magical feeling the game seems to be shooting for.

Other stumbles come when certain worlds try to open up a bit more, which might lead a younger audience to get frustrated by the lack of direction (especially when they keep getting hung up on that geometry!); Woven definitely works better when it’s casually guiding players along, letting gamers of all ages envelop themselves in the easygoing atmosphere instead of requiring tedious backtracking. There’s just something nice about sitting back and relaxing to hummable music, watching the roly-poly amble of a stuffed kangaroo.

Woven will not be for everyone; those who play for challenge or eye candy won’t find either here. And yet, despite those blurry visuals and stilted gameplay, there’s something endearing about this innocent elephant’s adventure. Woven certainly has its share of lumpiness, but somehow remains cozy regardless.

‘Woven’ is available on PC, Xbox One, PS4, and Switch (Reviewed on Switch).

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