Monday, November 4, 2013

NYCC 2013: Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

For four days, people came to the Javits Center in New York City to experience one of the largest conventions on the east coast: New York Comic Con 2013!  Fans of comics, movies, television shows, and toys came together to revel in their hobbies, and with them came video game companies to show off their wares for the upcoming holiday season and beyond.  We here at 3RM attended a few of those days, and we have impressions and video to provide from our experience!




Nintendo’s booth at New York Comic Con had not one but two Zelda titles on display. While one of them was on the Wii U (Wind Waker HD), the other title was on the Nintendo 3DS and 2DS – The Legend of Zelda - A Link Between Worlds. This adventure takes place within the same Hyrule as A Link to the Past, some far time later, but the game also brings Link into a new world, a dark kingdom known as Lorule.  I fought the crowds to get a complete playthrough of the demo Nintendo had available, and I walked away wanting to play so much more.

A Link Between Worlds played like the earlier overhead Zelda titles, with a clear focus on the mechanics of A Link to the Past. Unlike the past DS handheld Zeldas, this game played entirely with the circle pad and face buttons, the touch screen being used to select items and survey maps. While playing, it felt like Link moved and attacked faster than in previous games, which made the game feel smoother and allowed for less down time and more action! Besides Link’s trusty sword - a formidable weapon that could shoot energy at full health - the demo also equipped him with bombs, bow, hammer, and the fire rod. These items worked similar to how they did in the past, except for the fire rod which would create a tower of fire in front of Link instead of just a blast of flame. A significant change to the items in this game is the lack of ammo; instead, they use energy from Link’s energy bar. While this bar did replenish on its own, using the items too quickly would leave Link without magic to use these items. Another use for the magic bar was for the game’s new major mechanic – turning into a mural within the wall and being able to walk alongside it. This was important to use in order to reach hidden items in the overworld as well as complete the demo’s dungeon.

The demo had two starting points, outside Link's house and at the entrance of the demo dungeon.  The overworld area was closed off except for one path leading me toward the Eastern Palace, which was the first full dungeon in LTTP. This area immediately made references to LTTP with its grassy trails, stone statues, and hills of varying heights.  I also encountered various enemies taken from A Link to the Past such as knights, rock-spitting Octoroks, and Armos statues. Luckily, Link was well-equipped to deal with these enemies. Beyond the nostalgia, the demo did have a new environmental layout and more puzzles throughout the overworld. Exploring Hyrule, I found a number of switches which I could hit from afar in order to unlock rupee-filled chests. Also by using the wall-merge ability, I was able to find a few heart pieces that were on top of high ledges or within an otherwise-inaccessible alcove. The use of this ability completely changed how I approached the world, switching perspective from 2D overhead to 3D within the environment. Venturing through the classic overworld with this new power may lead to some unique discoveries.

After navigating the ruins, taking out Armos after Armos, I found my way into the temple. Surprisingly, when I entered the Eastern Palace, I found myself in a different dungeon – The Tower of Hera. Much like the dungeon in LTTP, this dungeon was an extremely tall structure requiring me to scale floor after floor in order to reach the temple boss – Moldorm, right where he was on the SNES. Where A Link Between Worlds differed from the past title was the use of the hammer, which originally did not show until later. Besides using the hammer to kill the dungeon’s tortoise enemies, Link had to use his hammer on strange smiling springs that would launch him upward to a higher ledge or even onto the floor above. As I moved higher into the tower, Link had to be careful of bumpers and beetles as they could just as easily push Link back down a number of floors, all seen far below.  Looking down the floors was important, as sometimes I actually needed to fall down to grab a key hidden below.

I also had to make use of Link’s new wall-merge ability in order to move further into the dungeon. At one point, I had to use that power to squeeze Link through metal bars in the window and continue climbing the tower from the outside! Even outside, I had to use the power to stick to rising blocks in order to reach higher floors and avoid falling into the abyss below.

Unlike Zelda games of old, there wasn’t an item to find here, but I did find the usuals – the map, the compass, and the boss key. Instead of finding a new powerful item, I found most chests were loaded with rupees, which are significant since Link needs to rent or purchase important items from Ravio’s shop; while not in the demo, Ravio is very important to the main game, acting as the game's lead shopkeep and inventory specialist. In the final game, Ravio requests that Link either purchase items at steep prices or rent the items until he falls, and note that as a more classic-style Zelda, losing all your hearts is not as difficult as you might think!

Working my way to the top of the tower, I found Moldorm moving atop a grated platform. For the most part, the fight was reminiscent to the first time I fought him in LTTP, except now it more quickly retracts its tail whenever it is hit. While fighting him, a thought popped into my head. Most Zelda bosses use the item of that dungeon to fight the boss, so on a whim I used the hammer. To my surprise, Moldorm stopped in his tracks for a brief moment before moving again. Using the hammer, I was able paralyze him and reach his weak spot with greater ease as well as prevent him from colliding against me. Thanks to this, I was able to defeat the boss, collect the heart container, and end the demo. I look forward for more changes in strategy like this in the final game!

While I enjoyed watching the trailers of the game, seeing it in motion was remarkable. The game ran at a perfect 60-frames per second even with the 3D turned all the way up. The framerate along with the characters' increased movement speed made A Link Between Worlds a very action packed experience that did not waste time getting things accomplished. As for the 3D, it actually helped me figure out which level Link was currently on. I felt that the depth created by the 3D visuals in the Tower of Hera created some of the best use of 3D in a long time. Other effects such as the fire rod’s fire tower or deflected Stalfos bones were all improved with the 3D display turned on. Even though the game ran smoothly and had cool effects, some of the characters and environments were lacking in detail, especially when compared the other 3DS Zelda, The Legend of Zelda - Ocarina of Time 3D. It is possible that the lower details help make the game run smoother, which I enjoyed. As for music, the parts I played were made of amazing remixes from the old LTTP soundtrack. Hopefully, a similar effort will be made on new songs in the game.

The Legend of Zelda - A Link Between Worlds used nostalgia to pull me in, and once I was playing I found a bunch of new content and challenges to surprise me, especially thanks to the game’s new wall-merge mechanic. While the graphics might not be as advanced as other titles, it ran really clean and quick, and it even managed to do this with the 3D turned all the way up. This is one of a few games that I will be playing with 3D turned all the way up in order to fully experience its multi-layered aesthetic. A unique mix or new and old, I look forward to this game when it comes out November 22nd.

NYCC 2013: Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

For four days, people came to the Javits Center in New York City to experience one of the largest conventions on the east coast: New York Comic Con 2013!  Fans of comics, movies, television shows, and toys came together to revel in their hobbies, and with them came video game companies to show off their wares for the upcoming holiday season and beyond.  We here at 3RM attended a few of those days, and we have impressions and video to provide from our experience!


The games at Nintendo’s New York Comic Con 2013 booth are due out this year, except for two. Sadly, one of these two was planned for this holiday but was delayed until February. That game was Donkey Kong Country Tropical Freeze, the second iteration of Retro Studios' series of Donkey Kong Country games. In Tropical Freeze, the premise is about the Kongs (Donkey, Diddy, and Dixie), who must travel across a number of islands to get back to DK Island and fend of the Vikings who have invaded it. and I got to play through the demo’s later stage, 2-6 Cannon Canyon.

As one can guess from the name, this stage took place in a large canyon area filled with cannon barrels. As Nintendo has mentioned, the camera in Tropical Freeze shifts around the world, in this case changing around the barrels, allowing for more dynamic barrel blasts through the stage.  I was launched looking down a waterfall, and another time the barrel was going to blast into the background amongst swinging explosives, which required me to time my exit just right or else BOOM! In fact, these roped explosive barrels appeared a lot in this stage, often requiring me to wait and run past them as they swung by. They also appeared regularly as I shot Donkey Kong though barrel after barrel. At one point, debris was falling onto the cannon barrel, so I had to line up my shot quickly or else it was goodbye Donkey Kong. Timing was everything in this stage.

Throughout the stage I could collect the usual items including banana tokens, KONG letters, and well-hidden puzzle pieces. One of these pieces was hidden behind a doorway into an extra mini-game room. This room was filled with bananas and platforms that would move from the background into the foreground and back again. In order to get the puzzle piece, I had to collect every banana before time ran out. Puzzle pieces could also be found around the swinging explosives or hidden just off the beaten path. All of this should sound familiar, as these were the typical hiding spots in Donkey Kong County Returns. Also like Returns, the stage ended with a roulette barrel, which would give Donkey the item showing when hit. Overall, the stage was challenging with a lot going on in it, and all of the hidden items in the stage made it enjoyable to explore outside the already difficult path.

If you have played Donkey Kong Country Returns, you already know how to play Tropical Freeze. I could roll with a shake of the remote, jump on bad guys to deal damage, and ground pound to open paths just like before. What appears to be gone is the blowing move; that move has been replaced with a new pluck motion which allows the Kongs to reveal hidden items and activate changes to the environment. The Kongs can also pick up and carry barrels, bombs, and unconscious enemies, perfect to throw and reveal new paths or puzzle rooms. I felt these mechanics combined could lead to some devious areas later into the game.

While the game has been improved graphically thanks to the HD hardware, Tropical Freeze still appeared to be graphically similar to DKC Returns. There have been some overall improvements such as more things happening on-screen, the shifting camera angles showing full 3D environments, and actual fur-shading on the Kongs to make them more detailed. Even though Tropical Freeze was visually pleasing and ran at a solid 60 frames-per-second, it did not really show that it was a true Wii U title graphically, and I hope that later stages of the title push the hardware more.

While it is still quite some time until Donkey Kong County Tropical Freeze comes out in February, I am already intrigued to see was new platforming elements Retro Studios adds to later stages as well as how much action they can fit onto the screen. I only hope they add unique environments and push the graphical prowess of the Wii U’s hardware. Look out for DKCTF in 2014.

Friday, November 1, 2013

NYCC 2013: Super Mario 3D World

For four days, people came to the Javits Center in New York City to experience one of the largest conventions on the east coast: New York Comic Con 2013!  Fans of comics, movies, television shows, and toys came together to revel in their hobbies, and with them came video game companies to show off their wares for the upcoming holiday season and beyond.  We here at 3RM attended a few of those days, and we have impressions and video to provide from our experience!


Nintendo had a large booth at this year's New York Comic Con, full of games already out and what is about to release.  Of the games shown, the game with the biggest presence was their next major release on the Wii U, Super Mario 3D World.  I already had the chance to play this particular demo back in June, but having a second time to try the game out, my interest in it has only grown.

Super Mario 3D World is the console sequel to 2011's Super Mario 3D Land for the Nintendo 3DS.  In this game, Mario, Luigi, Princess Peach, and Toad encounter a pipe into the Sprixie Kingdom, but it turns out that Bowser has already invaded the kingdom and kidnapped its princesses!  Now it is up to all four from the Mushroom Kingdom to save another kingdom from the mighty King of Koopas himself.

Super Mario 3D World is a 3D platforming adventure that combines elements from older Mario games such as Super Mario Brothers 3 and newer games such as Super Mario Galaxy.  The point of each stage is to reach the flagpole at the end of each level, but to get there, players have to venture across a number of obstacles and defeat a number of enemies in the way.  What makes 3D World so unique is that, unlike its predecessor, it allows for up to four players to cooperate together at the same time in-game, similar to the side-scrolling cooperative play in the New Super Mario Brothers series.  However, each character has their own different abilities that make them stand out.  Mario is all-around good, Luigi jumps higher, Peach hovers in mid-air, and Toad can dash the fastest.  When playing single-player, this allows for strategic character choices, but when multiplayer is involved, cooperation becomes even more paramount to ensure everyone makes it through unscathed.

When I first played the game in June, I was left with concerns with cooperative play, as I was continually left behind while other players took initiative, dashing forward without any concern to explore or let other people catch up.  Thankfully, this time I had a bit more control in where the group traveled, and with only three team members in my playtime, there was a little less action to distract and confuse.  As everyone kept exploring and playing around with the game mechanics, there was less catching up and, with that, more time to experience and enjoy the level design.  The issue of cooperation versus competition will always be present when it comes to this game, but hopefully when I get to play the final version, that will not be too much of an problem.

The demo I played introduced the newest power-up to the Mario franchise (and the most noteworthy addition to the game mechanics): Cat Power-Ups.  As a cat, the heroes can dash quickly on all-fours, perform pouncing attacks, and climb up walls with relative ease.  In the demo, everyone in my team of three got to try out this power up, and it is quite entertaining to use.  Suddenly walls were no match for Cat Mario, and slashing and diving at enemies felt just that much more precise, although attacking the enemies with a simple jump sufficed, too.  It was great to explore the world in a way not done before, and that makes me wonder just what secrets they could hide in this game, accessible only to a bit of feline-powered research.

Graphically, the game looks pretty much like a high definition version of Super Mario 3D Land.  The models are more akin to Super Mario Galaxy with a touch more smoothing in the models.  The animations were smooth and fast to fit the pace of the gameplay, and the environments were colorful and bright.  The textures could have been a little higher resolution, but the game did not look bad by any stretch.  On the GamePad, the game looked just as fine, so off-TV play for single-player should not be a problem.

Super Mario 3D World felt as quick and fun as its predecessor, but the addition of HD graphics, multiplayer cooperative play, and the cat power up give promise that the game could end up even better than its 3DS counterpart.  Super Mario 3D World releases later this month exclusively on the Wii U.