Crystal Defenders (Review)

“A surprisingly pleasantly tower defense game that can roll with the best of them.”

It’s difficult for any tower defense game aspiring to be the “next big thing” to really make it on the scene anymore thanks to PopCap’s Plants vs Zombies. Crystal Defenders, by Square-Enix, is one of those rare tower defense games that is not only very enjoyable, but is good enough to challenge the behemoth that is Plants vs Zombies.

Crystal Defenders is a Final Fantasy themed tower defense game that takes place on fairly large maps which require the player to place various different units down to deter the oncoming waves of monsters. The objective is to prevent the monsters from reaching your crystals at the end of the path. Each map is essentially just a long road that the monsters walk. They never attack you directly, but the threat of them snatching your crystals is always very real. If you lose all twenty crystals, it’s game over.

The selection of units appears limited when you first play, but you quickly get used to it. There are six classes to choose from most of the time and the most common are soldier, black mage, archer, white monk, thief, and time mage. Soldiers are the brute force of your army and essentially just hit hard – really hard! Black mages thrust fire spells at oncoming monsters and, along with the long range archers, are able to hit airborne monsters. White monks are average fighters who do not hit as hard as soldiers, but they have the ability to hit several monsters at once. Thieves cannot attack, but if a monster dies within their line of sight, you will get a huge cash bonus. Time mages, of course, possess weak attacks and the ability to slow monsters down.

There are various summons as well, each consuming five crystals when called, making them very risky to use. One summon, Phoenix, pumps up the attack and abilities of your army for the duration of the attack wave, while the Ramuh summon unleashes a devastating lightning attack across the entire map that will deliver lethal damage to all living monsters. Both sound very useful but, as I said, they consume five crystals when summoned. The whole point of the game is to protect the crystals, so really the only time to use one of these summons is when you believe that five or more monsters will reach the end, since most monsters steal one crystal each.

With each kill, you are awarded gold which goes towards leveling up your units. Once you are several waves in, it becomes apparent that the key to success isn’t placing many units but leveling up the ones you have already deployed instead.

The gameplay is simple and never gets too complicated, but it is extremely strategic and, when you clear a wave of monsters that seems particularly difficult or frustrating, you get a wonderful sense of accomplishment. Winning in Crystal Defenders really does feel extremely rewarding due to it’s ruthless nature, which is much more than I can say for the casual-friendly Plants vs Zombies.

The graphics are pretty basic and look like late PS1 or early PS2 graphics. The entire map and all units are 2D sprites, but since this is Square-Enix you just know that the graphics have to be at the very least decent looking. They’re not overglorified, but they do the job and are in some ways mildly cute.

Crystal Defenders’ music is very impressive, though. It sounds a lot like the music from Final Fantasy Tactics, which is no bad thing at all. The music may seem like a bit too much for a tower defense game at times, but that does not hurt the game or the music at all. Crystal Defenders is a real joy to listen to, believe me.

Overall, Crystal Defenders is a fantastic tower defense game and I feel that it is impossible for me to choose between this and Plants vs Zombies as the better tower defense game. If you’re a fan of old school tower defense games, or like Plants vs Zombies but want something a little rougher, then this is the game for you.

Crystal Defenders is available on the 360, PSP, Playstation 3, Wii, and most mobile phones. Since pretty much everyone owns at least one of those platforms, there really is no excuse to miss this game if tower defense is your thing. Check it out.

Final Score

8.6/10

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Tatsunoko Vs Capcom (Review)

“The best choice available for Wii owners who want a good fighter.”

Tatsunoko. A heck of a lot of people outside of Asia have no clue what that is. After playing Tatsunoko Vs Capcom, I’m still not sure! Do I recognize any of the Tatsunoko characters? Nope. Fortunately, this does not prevent the game from being quite awesome.

Tatsunoko Vs Capcom plays a lot like it’s sister series Marvel Vs Capcom, only a little slower and with a simpler control scheme. In Tatsunoko Vs Capcom (which I will refer to as TvC from now on), the controls are as follows. Y for weak attack, X for medium attack, A for strong attack, and B for assist. If you hold B, you can swap characters since this is a tag-team fighter.

There are no apparent issues with the controlling of any characters. It’s all pretty standard QCF plus a random button to execute moves. If you can pull off Ryu’s hadoken, then you’ll be able to do almost anything in the with game with ease. However, if you can’t even pull off a simple hadoken then, well, where have you been all these years!?

The gameplay is pretty solid. Since it isn’t as fast paced as Marvel Vs Capcom, I felt that TvC isn’t as aggressive and not as much of a rushdown fighter as it’s sister series. With slower gameplay comes more strategy and more room for executing things more carefully. It’s a pretty good fighting system that Capcom has in place here, and it only took me about twenty minutes to feel really comfortable with the game.

In terms of characters, there are quite a few. Doronjo, Tekkaman, Ken the Eagle, and Ippatsuman are some of the Tatsunoko characters available, though I suspect almost anyone reading this won’t know who the hell any of them are. Capcom’s roster is a little more familiar however, as it offers Batsu (remember him from Rival Schools?), Frank West, Mega Man Volnutt, Morrigan, Ryu, Viewtiful Joe, and Zero (from Mega Man X). The game’s final boss is a bizarre orb creature called Yami, and I have no idea if it originates from Capcom, Tatsunoko, or if it’s an original creation made specifically for TvC. Overall, there are close to thirty characters in the game, so there’s a little something for everybody.

The graphics are pretty nice for a Wii game. Of course they cannot compare to 360 or PS3 graphics, but TvC is definitely a very attractive Wii fighter. All characters are very detailed (especially Karas and Soki), animations are smooth and pleasant looking, and the stages are very vibrant and fun to play in.

Sound effects are, frankly, great! The music in TvC is very cool, especially the main menu theme. Easily my favourite menu theme ever for a fighting game, so kudos to Capcom on accomplishing that. Character voices are all pretty good (whether they be English or Japanese) and the fight sounds are standard stuff, but they work.

Completing fights will net you zenny, an ingame currency to purchase artwork, character costumes, and more. To clear out the ingame shop will require quite a lot of play time, so this game definitely has a fair bit of replayability.

Overall, TvC is a very solid fighter. While a crossover with Tatsunoko doesn’t really excite many western gamers, the great line-up of Alex, Batsu, Chun-Li, Viewtiful Joe, and more make this worth checking out for Capcom fans. The fighting engine is incredibly solid as well, making this the premiere fighting game for Wii owners.

Final Score

8.8/10

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 – Episode 1 (Review)

“A decent game, but a huge disappointment for Sonic fans.”

Before I get this review started, I feel the need to say that I’ve never been a huge Sonic fan. I’ve enjoyed the Sonic games, but I am anything but a nostalgic fan who looks back on the past with rose tinted glasses. I enjoyed the previous Sonic games and, oddly enough, Sonic 2 on the Game Gear was my favourite. All I want to say here is that my views on this game are not clouded by nostalgia. With that out of the way, let’s begin.

It’s been sixteen years since Sonic & Knuckles, which is an awfully long time for a series to go before getting a proper sequel. Sonic’s rival, Mario, even had a rocky return to 2D platform with New Super Mario Bros. on the DS, but the Wii version was significantly better and felt like a proper Mario game. It’s expected that Sonic 4 would be a little rough around the edges, just like Mario was on the DS, but that in no way justifies the quality of this hollow husk of a Sonic game. Sonic 4 suffers from many glaring problems that keep it from being a decent platformer. Pretty much all issues I have with this game are gameplay related, so let’s dive right into what’s wrong with it.

For starters, the graphics are not terribly impressive. I can tell that the graphic artists spent a fair amount of time on them, but the fact of the matter is that the graphics in Sonic 4 lack character, personality, and soul. The graphics look fine, but they evoke no emotions from me. They are remarkably generic looking, which isn’t good for a game that is supposed to be a triumphant return for Sonic the Hedgehog.

To accompany the fairly bland graphics are overly long levels that, honestly, go on longer than they should. I found several levels to be somewhat interesting at the start, but when they drag on for several minutes at a time with no interesting changes? Well, that just gets very dull and repetitive. Some levels made me want to turn the game off because they were so long and boring, but I forced myself to carry on.

What really makes these long levels unenjoyable is the poor level design. Everything just feels really uninspired and mashed together. There’s no coherent point or purpose to anything in every level, and the same obstacles are repeated over and over again. Poor pitfall placement hampers the levels even further, as it is difficult to tell when a hole will lead to another path or to Sonic’s death. There are far too many gigantic, open gaps. Once you are out of the tight corridors, the levels just feel really barren and lifeless.

The difficulty is a bit of an interesting subject. Overall, Sonic 4 is very easy most of the time. I would rack up tons of 1-UPs only to encounter one spot in almost every level (outside of the first zone) that made me lose several of the lives I had earned. I’ve breezed through a few levels only to get through about three quarters of each before I hit some kind of bizarrely difficult spot that kills me several times. It seems unusual to have these difficulty spikes.

Working hand in hand with the difficulty spikes are the game’s enemies. They enemy placement in Sonic 4 is positively dreadful. Many enemies are placed so that you will slam into them at high speeds and lose your rings. Taking into account how fast Sonic moves at times, it’s almost impossible to dodge a lot of enemies your first play through because they literally come out of nowhere. Sonic 4 does not make itself difficult by presenting you with legit challenges that require skill, no. Instead, Sonic 4 makes itself harder by placing enemies and obstacles in unfair locations. The fourth zone is the worst offender, constantly putting things in locations that makes Sonic getting hurt an inevitability.

A few other minor things bother me as well. First is the lack of Knuckles or Tails, which is very unusual. Tails, at the very least, should have been in this game. Instead, all we get is Sonic. Second, the non-linear level select makes Sonic 4 feel like an ordinary budget game by indie developers. You can essentially play any level whenever you want, rather than being forced to play through each level one at a time like in a regular platformer.

That’s a lot of strikes against Sonic 4, and it’s probably very evident that I don’t like this game much. There are a few good things worth mentioning, however!

Boss battles are very simplistic, but I found them to be pretty enjoyable. Last boss aside, they’re not horribly difficult and are somewhat based on older Sonic bosses, so you should have a basic idea as to how to defeat them.

Equally enjoyable are the Lost Labyrinth levels. I can’t say much against them and they were really quite fun, easily standing out against the rest of the zones. The second level of Lost Labyrinth was a little bit on the long side, but overall it was pretty well made. I enjoyed the wealth of puzzles, and it was nice being able to control Sonic more than 40% of the time, since in other zones it seems that Sonic is usually always being pushed, propelled, or shot in various directions. Lost Labyrinth gives the player lots of control and feels more like the classic Sonic games.

Several levels are very replayable for speed runners. In fact, it is encouraged since there is even an achievement that requires you beat the first level in under one minute. I’m not much of a speed runner, but the game has plenty for gamers of that sort to do. That’s definitely a plus for them.

Overall, I feel that this game suffers tremendously from several glaring issues, and I’m shocked at how few innovations there are between Sonic & Knuckles (1994) and Sonic the Hedgehog 4 (2010). If anything, it feels like Sonic 4 took a few steps back. However, there’s still a bit of fun to be hard here, and diehard Sonic fans from the 1990s should enjoy the game.

Final Score

6.6/10

New Super Mario Bros. Wii (Review)

“Mario returns to his roots once more in this enjoyable 2D platformer.”

For many years, I was complaining that Nintendo was foolishly wasting their time making fully 3D Mario games, which I still feel they inappropriately named as platformers. Mario 64 never clicked with me and Mario Sunshine was so mediocre that it was depressing. I never played either of the Mario Galaxy games due to not being a Wii owner. Despite the fact that I don’t own Nintendo’s latest console, I’m still allowed the opportunity to try a Wii game from time to time. Except for Mario Kart Wii, there’s probably no other game on the console that I’ve ever wanted to play except for New Super Mario Bros. Wii. Now that I’ve gotten the chance to try it out, I feel that I really must write about the game being the Mario fanatic that I am.

New Super Mario Bros. Wii (let’s just call it NSMBW for short) opens up with Mario and Luigi, as well as many toads (the mushroom people), attending Princess Toadstool’s birthday. Things take a completely random turn for the worse when Bowser’s goons lift Peach’s gigantic cake and throw it on top of her, trapping her inside before running off with her. I know that this is just a Mario platformer and all, but really? The cake? Nintendo surely could have done a little better than this? A crew of koopa caterers in disguise nabbing her would have been better. Even though I didn’t like the cake scene and found it to be really uncreative, it hasn’t affected my overall take on the game so no need to worry.

After the princess is nabbed, it is time for Mario, Luigi, and the two toads (one blue and one yellow) to save the day. With four characters comes four player support, new to the main Mario series. I only played the game solo which is how I feel Mario platformers should always be played unless we’re talking two players taking turns. In NSMBW however, all four players can romp across the screen together. It sounds like a little bit too much for me, especially in a Mario game, so I’m a little glad that I didn’t get the opportunity to try the multiplayer since it allowed me to play this game for what it is, a Mario platformer and not a four player orgy.

So once all is said and done and you’re past the intro sequence and player select, you get to tackle the first world. As is the case with all Mario games, NSMBW is divided into eight worlds, each comprised of several levels. Each world in NSMBW follows a different theme, most of which are pulled straight out of classic Mario games.

On the subject of emulating the classic Mario games, NSMBW does not hesitate to take many pages from the older games. NSMBW in fact borrows so many elements from the classic games that it ends up feeling like the first four games (Super Mario Bros 1, 2, 3 and World) were dumped into a big cauldron and left to stew. The number of gameplay elements from the old games is staggering, but it is huge relief after the 3D titles which tried desperately to be different.

Most of the classic enemies and power-ups from the first four games have returned. While they may be rendered in 3D now and have received drastic makeovers, everything is the same as ever. As a long time Mario fan, I was constantly encountering somewhat obscure enemies that I had met in the older games, so I had the privilege of knowing what they do and how to get around them. It was so great to experience so much familiarity in a new Mario game and it left me feeling really good.

In terms of what’s new to Mario, there are three new power-ups that are quite a lot of fun to use. The first that you will likely encounter is the ice flower which, instead of giving Mario the ability to throw fireballs, allows our plumber friend to freeze enemies for a few seconds. The second power-up is a propeller cap which allows Mario to fly up and down by shaking the Wiimote. This is a cheap gimmick to add to a power-up, and it immediately makes the propeller cap inferior to the leaf from SMB3 or cape from SMW in my opinion. The third and final new power-up is the penguin suit, which allows Mario to glide across the ground effortly like a penguin on ice.

Level structure is the same as ever, keep moving forward until you reach the goal post at the end of the level. How to progress through the levels has remained unchanged so Mario veterans should be able to complete most of the game with relative ease. There are a few new challenges littered throughout the game, most of which start to appear in the secord world.

There are a few old faces that have returned to the Mario franchise, which makes me very, very happy. First off, there’s Yoshi. Our beloved dinosaur has been restored to his Mario World glory thanks to a smart decision by Nintendo. Gone is Yoshi’s bizarre baby voice which has been replaced by the deeper, more reptilian Yoshi noises that we fell in love with in Super Mario World. Unfortunately, Yoshi is only present in a small handful of levels and cannot be taken outside to other levels. This seems to be a nod to Mario Sunshine and, quite frankly, I hate it. The inability to bring Yoshi anywhere is really not beneficial to the gameplay at all. Super Mario World, which is essentially twenty years old, has a superior Yoshi that can travel to any level. That does not look very good on NSMBW.

Also returning for the first time in many years are the Koopa Kids. I missed this guys immensely, as they were among my favourite aspects of the old games. The order that you fight them in has been shaken up quite a bit and is fairly interesting now. For example, Larry Koopa was usually always in castle 6 or 7 before, but is now the very first Koopa Kid who you must overcome.

World structure is actually the best ever in a Mario game. While the game world doesn’t feel as diverse as Super Mario World, which featured a brilliant overworld map, NSMBW instead emulates the map style that we’ve seen in Super Mario Bros. 3 and New Super Mario Bros. for the DS. There are several levels scattered across the maps which the player must beat to progress. Among them are mushroom houses, ghost houses (returning from Mario World), and towers. The towers are actually quite nice. In most cases, towers sit smack dab in the middle of each world. Whichever Koopa Kid is lording over the world you’re in will be present in the tower, and you get to have a nice little fight with them before they flee to the castle at the end of the world. After beating the tower, you are treated with a save prompt and the second half of the world to play through.

The graphical style in NSMBW isn’t bad at all and, quite honestly, just looks like the original Super Mario Bros. on the NES with a massive makeover. This is quite a good thing, and there’s a lot of charm in the game’s visuals. Sound effects match nicely, as many of them are straight out of the classic games with few alterations. Music is a different story and I personally found it to be a bit of a bag of mixed nuts. Some of the music tracks are very enjoyable and pleasant to listen to, but others are entirely forgettable. It is a little disheartening that a Mario platformer could have music that won’t stand out or stick with you, but that’s just the sad truth. The music is at least an improvement from New Super Mario Bros. on the DS, but just about anything is an improvement over the music in that game. Sorry Nintendo.

So, is the game worth your time? If you are a Mario fan, then the answer is a definite yes. If you enjoy Mario platformers, then there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that you will enjoy this game. Heck, even just fans of platformers in general should find a lot to like in this game. While the game falters a tiny bit from a few shortcomings, it stands strong and is only bettered by perhaps Mario 3 and Mario World. Nintendo has proven to us that they still have it in them, and this is undoubtedly the best 2D Mario platformer in a whooping twenty years.

Final Score

9/10