(originally published, December 2016)
I assure you: I wasn’t one of those weirdos waiting over night to get a Wii U on release day, though I was pretty damn excited about it. That is, right up until I got one. The lack of games in the early days, as well as a misunderstanding of the GamePad controller, led me to sell it off in favor of an Xbox One. As someone who primarily plays and collects older stuff, I wanted to try out this new generation and see what it had to offer. The Wii U just didn’t seem to be doing the trick.
I found the Xboner, as it is sometimes called, cheaper overall than the PS4, and the differences between them in terms of first party offerings and hardware were negligible. Bobs being uncles and all that, a fair amount of time has passed and my interest in current generation games has topped out at around 15 or so little green boxes (along with some truly badass download-only indie games). Without an interest in online multiplayer, and being more than a little offended over the way downloadable content has been used to extort people… it’s been disappointing.
Now, I’m not going to say that the 8th generation hasn’t been fun as hell. Grand Theft Auto V, Far Cry Primal, Call of Duty Whatever-The-Fuck, Fallout 4 (which I don’t personally like, but respect for what it is), Mortal Kombat X and a handful of others justify the entire purchase all by themselves — depending on what you’re into, of course. Honestly, if there were a Grand Theft Auto V machine that did nothing else, I’d probably have paid $300-500 for it. It’s that good. However, these very statements, and the way most people who play video games will have read into them, just go to show how the Wii U has been shelved, not just physically, but in terms of the general consciousness. This is a testament to my interests of course, but honestly: I got bored. All of these first / third person games get old fast when developers forgo other genres, or blow off couch co op because they don’t give a shit or would rather waste console horsepower on visuals. What to do?
Perusing my local Game Stops (ducking behind shelving in order to avoid being harassed about all the “cool new stuff coming out”), those Wii U titles slowly started to grow in number and appeal. Suddenly the system isn’t being completely carried by Super Mario 3D World and Mario Kart 8. Sure, unless you’re really into JRPGs, most of the good stuff is still first party, but who gives a rat’s ass? Somehow people seem to have forgotten that Nintendo is really, really fucking good at making video games. So yeah, I’m standing there one day, and I see Super Mario 3D World, Mario Kart 8, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker, Star Fox Zero, Pikmin 3 (another game I respect, but don’t like) Kirby’s Bubble-Butt Adventure, Donkey Kong’s Kung Fu Nut-Scratch, Yoshi’s Meth Lab, Super Mario Sans Slopes For Some Ungodly Reason Maker, some game with a nearly naked chick shooting people, and all these other games that utilize the Gamepad controller in ways that make their Xboner and PS4 counterparts seem lesser, and… fuck?
Fuck is right, and there are multiple levels to said fuck. The first level of fuck is just kind of the realization that I should have stuck it out, because here’s this badass treasure trove of awesome shit that’s just been hanging out without me. And the second is is that the Wii U hasn’t dropped in price. I was kind of hoping to get back into that system on the cheap because 9 out of every 10 shut-in 12 year olds have taken to YouTube to shit all over it. Not gonna happen. In fact, due to the strung out drama leading up to the release of official information on the upcoming Switch, Nintendo has somehow managed to dutch rudder the entire world into getting Wii U sales up by 340% this last November (according to GameStop). Not just that, but right this instant the used prices on some Wii U games are literally sitting at the same price as the new copies, which is total greedy corporate fuckery, but a fact nonetheless.
Still, thanks to a wife that doesn’t know how to obey the holiday spending rules, I’ve spent the last four days with my second Wii U and copies of Pikmin 3, the HD remake of Wind Waker, Shovel Knight, Super Mario 3D World, Star Fox Zero and Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. Determined to put some serious hours in (its tough work, but somebody has got to do it…), I’ve come out of the mini-coma really appreciating a few things.
The GamePad Nano-Review
Just to be clear: I used to hate this fucking thing. It felt obtuse and was part of the reason I sold my first Wii U. It was big and had to be plugged in. With its own AC adapter. Not that other controllers aren’t exactly the same way… it was just… a big thing, and it got dusty. Dust is bad. I didn’t get it. I didn’t understand just how useful it was to be able to plug headphones in and play at night without the light or sound from a TV fucking with a sleeping wife-beast. I didn’t understand that you could literally just walk away and go take a shit with the thing without having to pause or stop what you’re doing in any way. I didn’t realize just how useful the touch screen could be as a supplementary gameplay tool — even if it wound up being very much under-utilized. I didn’t understand that it was light enough to be used for motion control, and pretty damn ergonomic considering its sized and Nintendo’s efforts to make it accessible to all sizes of hands.
Basically, now I love it, though I understand why so many people didn’t. The whole design of the system is a bit out there, and as is usually the case with Nintendo, a little too ahead of its time — and undoubtedly once again laying the groundwork for other companies to benefit from later. Innovation bites people in the ass, its just the way of things. Nobody was really wrong for rejecting it, because they largely failed at communicating to the end user, not to mention developers, just what it could do.
For a taste of the GamePad at its very best, stick around for the Star Fox Zero review.
The Donkey Kong: Tropical Freeze Review
Like the lady in the store, you’ll probably open your mouth wide, spew some obscenities, and shit your pants when I say that I didn’t like any of the original Donkey Kong Country games on the SNES. It’s not that they were bad — saying that would be worthy of such a response. I just felt that they controlled weird, were kind of sparse as far as enemies and multiple layers of platforming goes, and that the graphics got in the way of the gameplay. A lot of the game design consisted of elements that only served one narrow function, whereas in Super Mario World, for example, you could choose to approach things in a number of ways. Stiff, I think, is the word I’m looking for. Not for me.
Anyway, I saw a review of this game on YouTube and the reviewer dude felt very much the same way, yet swore that this title was better than the originals in every way. So at $20, I gave it a go. I played the shit out of it. My Mountain Dew got warm because I was that engaged. I know, right?
I’ll start off by saying I have no complaints, at all. None. Not even Funky Kong’s clearly racist, asian-cliche sounding gibberish. The gameplay is fast, and there’s never a dull moment. From the controls and abilities to the level functionality, the shop, etc, its hard as balls in all the right ways and the level design is simply brilliant, if not mildly revolutionary. Playing this game is like hiring the world’s best hooker, and when you’re done ‘just talking,’ you’re still gonna limp for a while. Each stage is entirely cinematic in delivery, complete with object interactions, numerous secrets, a wide variety of enemies and interesting boss battles, changing elements in the background and some creative 2.5D stuff, plane-swapping at the end of sections, varying gameplay types… you name it. Hooking up with the various other Kongs for added abilities, some co op shit (which is just okay), swinging on shit, shimmying along shit, throwing shit, pulling shit, swimming (shit), slapping shit, jumping on shit, breaking shit and avoiding being shredded, ripped apart, falling down into, or skewered by shit.
I’ll just say it: this game represents a moment in platformer design history that I won’t soon forget. It’s a running and jumping fan’s wet dream, complete with a ton of comedy and some surprising musical scores that add serious depth to the environments. Along with the new 3D Mario games (like Galaxy and 3D world) and Rayman Legends in particular, tropic Freeze totally validates this genre’s place among all of those first and third person adventure / shooter / RPG clones. If you have a Wii U and don’t have this game, or are thinking about getting one after reading this Wii U masturbation article, do consider this a first, second or third purchase. Endlessly replayable and always enjoyable.
The Star Fox Zero Review
I picked this up knowing full well that most people hate it. For the first few hours, so did I. The controls were janky and complex, there weren’t as many straight rail-shootin’ levels as in Star Fox or Start Fox 64, and the plot was recycled from the original. Again. When I went to sleep after my first day with this game, I had plans to return it. I woke up feeling the same way, but promised myself I’d try the cooperative feature before doing so — and that’s when I saw the light.
The co op is awesome. One person flies the ship with a standard controller and has dominion over a single forward-facing laser, while the second uses the game pad and takes control of the primary laser turret and bombs (other functions as well, but I won’t be going that in-depth for this review). Holy shit is this fun and makes you feel like you’re in the damn Millenium Falcon. In fact, Gamesman Phil was sitting in a roller / swivel chair on some tile and found himself rotating around like a total fartknocker, confirming immediately after that, like many of the Wii Sports games, the awkward appearance was worth it.
The co op gives you a bit of relief from the pressure you’re under in single player mode, as that has you literally flying the ship with one set of controls on the TV and doing precision aiming with the motion controls on the GamePad screen — at the same time Yes, its pretty fucked, but thanks to the two player mode as I was able to complete more of the game and kind of ease into what Nintendo was trying to do it. Less fucked, it became.
To put things into perspective, the relevant question on my mind right now is this: would I rather have this game, or a traditional Star Fox title? I say this because A. Most people wanted the latter, and B. This game is incredibly unique, and can’t be judged fairly as being anything but. You do not get a standard behind-Arwing rail game on the TV because its all about taking control of all of these different elements and using them not only when required or appropriate, but when advantageous. In fact, there are quite a few sections where the main screen only gives you a fixed camera angle, requiring a look at the GamePad to see what’s in front of you. While I can completely understand why this may irk a lot of people, I’ve also come to understand why its so damn cool. Reminding me a bit of Red Alarm on the Virtual Boy, when you master these complicated controls you can pull off some crazy shit that’s just not possible otherwise. At its core, that’s what this game seeks to do: offer up new kinds of gameplay.
While I believe this has to be recognized in any fair judgement, it is, of course, entirely up to whether or not you like these innovations. Some people don’t like rain, cheese or REO Speedwagon. It’s just how it is.
After quite a bit of deliberation, I’ve decided that I am very solidly in the “do like” camp — especially because I can still experience the more classic approach with Star Fox and Star Fox 64. The downside is that the fast-paced arcadey sort of “zip around and blow the shit out of stuff” elements do suffer, even if some of the boss battles and quasi-platforming sections make up for it (sort of). Take away the control and perspective wizardry and you’re be left with sort of a bland-ish experience in the sense that it does nothing that Star Fox 64 didn’t already do. I very much wish they’d have crammed some better level design and action in there, but I am thankful for the crazy experience that is mastering these controls in single player mode, and getting to do the whole Han / Chewie thing in co op.
Something else I don’t mind taking a swipe at is sound. The “good luck” clip from the first game is appreciated (along with all of the other throwback inclusions), but just kind of tacked on. And damnit, it makes no sense because it was General Pepper originally saying it, but he has a new voice nos and… #nerdrage.
Additionally, these versions of the original scores feel soft and less frantic than in the earlier titles. I consider the use of music in the original SNES game to be one of the most well-implemented of any game I’ve ever played. I can still remember putting together some couch cushions on the floor in front of the TV to form a fake cockpit, and making sure I was comfortable, all itches scratched, socks even, etc. before diving into the whole experience. A lot of that had to do with the sound. Especially on that first Corneria stage… launching was, and is, fucking intense. You’re on a goddamn mission, and the Nintendo S-SMP audio processing unit knows it. So maybe I’m being harsher than I should be due to the impact of those early experiences. Maybe not. Maybe I need to try that cushion thing again. Maybe it sounds like it might go really well with some gin and a cigar.
Getting the most out of Star Fox Zero certainly requires an investment, but if you’re at all a nerd for innovation, you’ll be glad all of those shitty reviews have driven the price down on this release. Even if just for the novelty of the whole thing. The TV / Gamepad screen dynamic truly is clever, and is bolstered by little details like the fact that your squadron-mate communications only come through on the GamePad speakers (which makes the GamePad feel just that much more like its a part of the Arwing itself).
In the very least, relegating this game to the scrap heap is short-sighted. I consider what Nintendo was trying to do here to be at the core of why the Wii U will be thought of more fondly in the years to come than it is now.
By Gamesman Anus