Thursday, 19 November 2009

Pikmin 2 - Wii

Sorry about the lack up updates recently. With longer working hours and the annual Christmas games rush well and truly underway, I've had little chance to update the old blog.

Anyway, I've been going through this year's releases trying to pick my top 20 games of the year - so far. All the usual suspects are included, but I thought I'd take time to highlight a few crackers which might have escaped people's attention, so let's start with the Wiimake of Pikmin 2.

Initially available on Gamecube, this year Nintendo decided to release a few old classics on Wii, adding motion control support. The 480p option also means that these old timers are looking better than ever.

Created by Mario's dad, Shigeru Miyamoto, the Pikmin series takes the form of a fun and light-hearted real-time strategy game.

You control Captain Olimar and his sidekick Louie, and are tasked with revisiting the Pikmin's home world in a bid to raise funds for their ailing freight company back home. To do this, everyday objects such as fruit, batteries and crushed cans must be collected, which add to your company's funds.

Of course, the two intrepid explorers can't do this alone, so they employ the services of the planet's Pikmin - strange plant-like creatures who are only too happy to lend Olimar and Louie a hand.

These flower-topped creatures come in five different flavours: red, yellow, blue, purple and white, and each have their own strengths and weaknesses.

Pikmin can be thrown at objects, which they will then carry to Olimar's spaceship, while throwing them at enemies causes the Pikmin to start fighting. Thrown en masse, they can also destroy most obstacles blocking your path.

To help manage the different coloured Pikmin, the player can switch between Olimar and Louie to command different armies, which helps things from getting too chaotic.

It might all seem a bit complicated, but with Miyamoto pulling the strings, Pikmin 2 is incredibly easy to pick up and a wonderful experience.

The added Wiimote controls add a great deal to the title, and commanding your Pikmin army is now far easier than it was using the old Gamecube pad.

For those who love collecting in-game items, Pikmin 2 has plenty to keep you occupied. The Piklopedia catalogues all the flora, fauna and creatures you come across on your travels - each one accompanied by a beautiful videoclip.

You can also keep track of all your treasures, each one featuring an excerpt from Olimar's diary. The attention to detail throughout is typical of Miyamoto-san and makes for an excellent all-round package.

With hundreds of objects to be collected above and below ground, lush and beautiful locations to explore, surprises around every corner, and two-player support Pikmin 2 feels as fresh today as it did back in 2004.

For those who played through the original back in the day, there's not a great deal more here to tempt you back. But for newcomers to the series, Miyamoto's masterpiece is an essential purchase and one of the finest games out on the Wii.

Tuesday, 17 November 2009

Jambo! Safari - Wii

I have long waited for a home console version of this Sega arcade classic - as I have very fond memories of stuffing handfuls of cash into the coin-op a few years ago.

However, don't be fooled. While this Wii version contains the arcade cabinet's core gameplay - based around rounding up wild animals from the safety of a jeep - it's changed from a tense bumpy ride across African plains into a long-winded, mission-based experience.

Elements from Crazy Taxi and Sega Bass Fishing are present, but the game is let down in a number of areas. Sega have aimed straight at a younger age group, padding the game to appeal to kids with an abundance of side shows to detract from the main gam. That's fine for newcomers, but it's sad Sega saw fit to add extra layers where they're not needed.

The Wii controls are well used, with the player forced to swing the Wiimote and flick it as they let the lasso fly. Straining to capture the captured beast is a test of wits, as a careful eye must be kept on line-tension in case the animal manages to break free - hello, Sega Bass Fishing! It's during these moments when fond memories of the arcade original are most keenly felt.

Graphics are unfortunately nothing special, with a poor draw distance causing objects such as trees and rocks to pop into view at the last moment. However, it's still a pleasure taking the jeep for a spin across the sizeable levels, while African beats drum away in the background.

Jambo! Safari is still enjoyable, but the needless side missions detract from the simple beauty of the arcade game. Kids will get a kick out of caring for sickly zebras, but coin-op fans should approach with caution.

Thursday, 5 November 2009

Agatha Christie’s The ABC Murders - DS

Taking elements from the Professor Layton and Phoenix Wright series, this murder mystery unfortunately fails to come close to either.

Playing the part of Captain Hastings, Hercule Poirot’s right-hand man, the player attempts to unravel the mystery behind several grizzly murders through riddles and investigations.

Multiple choice questions let you attempt as many of the answers as you'd like, so sifting through these is a piece of cake and lacks any decent challenge.

The tougher head-scratchers require the player to input the answer using the touchscreen, but with no hint system available these puzzles often lead to frustrating dead ends.

Visuals are unspectacular, failing to match the appeal of Phoenix Wright’s cartoon look, while spoken dialogue is few and far between. Ultimately, the lack of hint system and obtuse puzzles are the game’s downfall. With Layton and Wright still sitting on shop shelves, there really is little reason to pick up this below average murder mystery.

Tuesday, 3 November 2009

Jak and Daxter: The Lost Frontier - PSP

Eight years after their debut outing on PlayStation 2, Jak and Daxter are back for another round of platform shennanigans.

Sharing many similarities with the Ratchet & Clank series, the dynamic duo’s latest outing on PSP is unfortunately spoiled by weak camera controls and sloppy shooting mechanics. While there are plenty of enemies to take down and a plethora of platforms to negotiate, flimsy controls spoil most of the fun.

This leads to frustrating moments and as the game lacks a lock-on feature, fighting straightforward enemies can be more trouble than it should be. The Warhawk-inspired flying sections fare better, with the tight air-to-air combat much more enjoyable than the on the ground action.

With plenty of sidequests, game altering unlockables, weapon upgrades and some snazzy graphics, Jak and Daxter’s latest adventure does plenty of things right. But it falls on its face when it comes to the cumbersome controls - something which plagued Ratchet & Clank: Size Matters on PSP.

Perhaps Sony's hand-held console isn’t the best platform to show off this type of action adventure, where a snappy camera and tight controls would make all the difference.