Notes from Skyloft…

As I suspected, all I’ve got room for is a collection of scribbles that I recorded in between playing Skyward Sword. Long story short: the first three hours were mind-numbingly boring. The next thirty-seven hours, however, were utterly fantastic. I’m just heading into the final dungeon, ten minutes shy of hitting forty hours, and it feels like there’s so much left to do. In the last couple of hours the game has opened up yet again.

Put simply, Skyward Sword is a Proper Game. A bloody brilliant Proper Game.

And now, here’s some notes.

2011 11 28 :: Just finished second dungeon/temple… boss fight was fucking fantastic. Forgot to mention the inbuilt hint system and all-round approachability… I’m vowing to avoid GameFAQs for this playthrough :)

2011 12 01 :: End of the first act… who needs HD? This 480p stuff looks pretty bloody good.

2011 12 03 :: Wind Waker Redux? Hell no – it’s so much better. The time shifting mechanic? Chasing the pirate ship? Magnificent.

2011 12 04 :: Christ, this just keeps getting better and better.

Hopefully this will wrap up soon, because it’s becoming quite enveloping. On the other hand, I don’t want it to end…

Je Retourne (2010 Edition)

Hello again!

So: the Fringe this year was good – blindingly good, in fact – and, coupled with an appropriate Festival, ensured that I got zero gaming done (apart from the odd brain-awakening game of Sudoku on the iPhone) for over four weeks. And, unlike last year, I didn’t miss gaming at all – mainly because I was too busy either filling my mind with arty stuff (120 shows all up), or my gullet with alcohol (equal parts Asahi and house reds), or talking to many culturally far-flung people, or all of the above. It was easily one of the greatest months of my life…

…which could explain why, when I returned to my Other Hobby after a month, I was so utterly disappointed by what I found before me.

I’d received my NTSC copy of No More Heroes 2: Desperate Struggle from Play-Asia mere days into my self-imposed gaming exile and, while tempted, I managed to leave it in the shrink-wrap until last Tuesday. Somewhat rested and dragging my sleep patterns back into off-season normalcy, I fired up the Wii and began Travis Touchdown’s second outing.

And, from the opening sequence, there’s something that rubs me the wrong way about NMH2. Maybe it’s the more detailed textures on the character models that ruin the semi-cel-shading; maybe it’s the immersion-breakers. Hey, the original game revelled in the knowledge that it was a game, but the sequel flaunts it like a drunken D-cup bridesmaid on a hen’s night, with fourth-wall-breaking references a-plenty in the opening hours.

Whilst I can understand the majority of complaints about the clunky overworld in the original game, its absence in the sequel makes the whole experience feel empty and disconnected. There used to be a real sense of purpose – no matter how monotonous – about having to ride to the High School to take on Shinobu, or to the baseball stadium to meet Bad Girl; now, their counterparts are just a menu item, something trivial on a list to cross off once beaten. There’s also no character to any of the new bosses; they’re essentially anonymous until you get the garish “DEAD” message and discover their name for the first time.

In fact, there’s so much that appears to be changed for no reason – the aforementioned texture tweaks (resulting in a muddy look), the lower camera angles, and the slightly faster – but seemingly less fluid – combat are all steps backwards, in my book. Even the ability to play as both Henry and Shinobu is handled clumsily, with the latter introducing a precision jumping mechanic to a game that really shouldn’t have one. The real-time weapon change is nice, though (but I thought you needed the power of the Playstation 3 for that? ;)

And then there’s the gamebreakers – getting stuck in endless knockdown loops. Changing katanas leaves you immobile and invincible for longer-than-a-moment – but not when that instakill satellite beam is being used. The penultimate boss battle seems to have not been playtested at all, and is plagued by incredibly crap timing; once you’re knocked down, it’s only by the grace of god that you can actually get up again before your health is depleted. And in a late bit of dialogue, the subtitles used “your” instead of “you’re”. Really? Quality control is that lax?

Eventually, after 11 hours (which included a fair bit of whoring, foolishly expecting extra weapons to appear in the lab run by the now-completely-ridiculous Naomi), I finally beat the lacklustre final boss. And, just like much of the action preceding it, the ending is disappointingly perfunctory; there’s no surprise denouement, no sting in the tail, nothing clever.

Now, I accept that I may not have been in the best mental state to play this game; I always suffer a bit of a depression when the constant mind-stretching delight of the Fringe wraps every year, felt more acutely this year on account of the personal connections I made over the period that I’m desperate to not lose. And it’s through this haze of malaise that I viewed NMH2.

Remember that I love the original game; it was my Game of the Year in 2008. And I recognise that I only began to truly love it on about the third playthrough.

And at all times – even on the first playthrough – I enjoyed it more than I enjoyed belting through NMH2.

Where the original was original and witty, astute and brash, and with solid gameplay to match, the sequel seems to rely on the tone alone, rather than the mechanics. In making the NMH2 a more mainstream production – decision described by most reviewers as “fixing all the bad bits of the original” – Grasshopper have callously ignored all the things that made the original great, making change after pointless change, leaving behind an almost completely soulless experience.

Yes, I’ll give it another couple of playthroughs – my OCD demands that much – but I can’t see NMH2 growing on me the same way the original did. Here’s hoping it does… but it has a very, very deep dark pit to climb out of first.

The Surprise OCD Requirement

Last week I wrote a little about finishing New Super Mario Brothers Wii, and remarked that all I had left to do was to collect all the Big Coins and complete World 9. This was derived from the easily-found requirements to “five-star” the game:

Star 1: Beat the game.
Star 2: Beat every normal level.
Star 3: Collect all 207 star coins in the first 8 worlds.
Star 4: Collect all 24 star coins in world 9.
Star 5: Beat every level, find every secret goal and use all of the warp cannons.

Piece of piss, I thought. Even with World 9 noticeably amping the difficulty, I figured that the above feats would all be doable in time. Sure, there was a little backtracking for a couple of skipped levels and secret exits that I hadn’t mentioned, but I was confident (despite my previous comments) that I could manage that pretty quickly.

But then I discovered something new:

Sparkling Stars: Beat the game without Super Guide appearing.

Oh dear.

Such is my platforming cack-handedness, the Super Guide appeared often in my playthrough of New Super Mario Brothers Wii – I love the way that the Super Guide’s Luigi is positively timid, in stark contrast to the high-speed ninja-rific antics of the other Hint Movies. So, alas, no Sparkly Stars were appearing on that save-file. I started an internal dialogue; should I restart the game in an attempt to get some Sparkly Stars? or should I just push on for my five-star completion and leave it at that?

…well, it was a no-brainer, really. I bought the game, I love the game, so it’s time to accept responsibility for my actions and step up to the plate. I started a new game, completed the first couple of levels without incident, and then became utterly terrified: I started thinking about a couple of key levels, like the end of Worlds 5 and 8, and became utterly convinced that I was going to be unable to overcome the task I’d just set myself.

The biggest problem I could foresee was the fact that NSMBWii doesn’t allow you to freely save your game until after you’ve completed the Bowser’s Castle level on World 8; this meant that a series of completely flukish levels would have to be strung together for a mid-world save-point. This sounded highly unlikely to me, so I hit the interwebs for the shortest route to the end-game. As usual, YouTube came up trumps with an amazing speedrun by Dread Phanna:

Obviously, there’s spoilers galore in those videos – and I highly recommend you avoid the last one unless you’ve finished the game yourself. After all, that last level is one of the gaming highlights of the year for me.

The great thing about the speedrun is it highlighted the fastest route to completion, leveraging secret exits and cannons galore. And so, with a couple of days practise, I managed to get my first Sparkly Star :)

Of course, now I’ve got to go and get the other four stars (as detailed above) whilst maintaining my Sparklies; that’s being aided by the fact that I spend a lot of time practising on my first save-file, before popping over to my Sparkly save-file. It’s steady going at the moment – I’m up to the Castle of World 5 – but this is where it starts getting interesting.

I’m expecting much hair-pulling this week :)

No More Heroes: Game Saves

Being the O/C freak I am, it wasn’t enough that I finish No More Heroes on the most difficult skill level (in both PAL and NTSC versions); oh no, I had greater plans in store.

As you may have gathered from my previous post, the main spectacles in No More Heroes are the boss fights. Unfortunately, there’s no easy way to select a particular boss battle after-the-fact, so I figured the best thing to do would be to create a stack of save files, positioned such that the save is just before each boss battle.

And so I present the following files unto you, dear reader. Each file has the four available save slots occupied as follows:

  1. A Cleared game, saved after beating Henry on Bitter. All collectables collected, all Gold Medals obtained (except on PAL – missing some Free Fight Golds there), and tons of money earned so you don’t have to do any side missions if you don’t want to.
  2. Sweet: saved just before ranked fight.
  3. Mild: saved just before ranked fight.
  4. Bitter: saved just before ranked fight.

Thus, if you download the “Rank 3” files below, you’ll be able to tackle the battle for Rank 3 at all difficulty levels to determine for yourself that, yes, Shinobu is an utter bitch on Bitter. But a totally rewarding bitch :)

Sadly, you’ll probably find that these files will load up the Bitter save in Slot 1 by default; to revert to one of the other skill levels, wait until you’re back in-game, hit the “+” button, navigate to “Data” and then load the save-slot of choice.

To copy these onto your Wii, drop the “private” folder (from the desired archive below) into the root of an SD Card, then pop that into the Wii and transfer the data from the SD Card to your Wii system memory. Remember, you can only have one of these game save files on your Wii at a time, so make sure you back up your existing save game first! (Again, copy it onto a SD Card, then copy it from the SD Card to someplace safe. Of course, you’re doing that with all your current saves anyway, aren’t you? Because I’m not going to be held responsible if you lose all your hard-earned progress just because you wanted to sneak a peek at one of these save games ;)

Make sure you download the correct version of the file: “NTSC” files should suit the US, Canada, and other NTSC parts of the world (Wii code is “RNHE”); “PAL” files should be good for European / Oceanic countries (and, I’m guessing, all PAL regions, with Wii code “RNHP”). I suspect neither will work in Japan, unfortunately.

Fight for Rank 10: PAL | NTSC
Fight for Rank 9: PAL | NTSC
Fight for Rank 8: PAL | NTSC
Fight for Rank 7: PAL | NTSC
Fight for Rank 6: PAL | NTSC
Fight for Rank 5: PAL | NTSC
Fight for Rank 4: PAL | NTSC
Fight for Rank 3: PAL | NTSC
Fight for Rank 2: PAL | NTSC
Fight for Rank 1: PAL | NTSC
Final Fight: PAL | NTSC

…and, as an extra special bonus, here’s the excellent Zero Punctuation review and frothy Edge review of No More Heroes.


No More Heroes

After being blown away by the rather magnificent Killer7, I was keen to check out Suda51‘s next baby. Press buzz around No More Heroes was positively bubbling, with hopes being built that it would be the first massive third-party title for the Wii.

After acquiring the European version of the game (Australia seems destined to forever fall under the shadow of the delayed Euro releases), I decided to forgo my my zillion-playthrough Killer7 plans and leapt right into the game. And it’s really quite a jarring opening: the toonish cel-shading, combined with retro-Lego-inspired blocky models have you questioning the decade in which No More Heroes was written. But, having toddled your way from the front door of your motel room to the stairs, you’re treated to an opening credit sequence that more than tips its hat to Tarantino. Using such a film trailer-esque opening is a ballsy move, and probably the nicest use of FMV I can remember in recent games; and, with heart pumping and a goofy grin on my face, the game engine kicks in for the pre-tutorial sequence: with a guitar screeching in the background, Travis Touchdown incinerates two guards with his light sabr… erm, “beam katana” and punctuates the performance with a hearty “Fuckheads!”

This, clearly, is not Animal Crossing. And that sequence always crosses my mind when I hear someone talk about how the Wii “is just a kid’s machine”.

“Nope, that’s not a light sabre, honest… Mr Lucas.”

The tutorial is just brief enough to tell you that holding “Z” and mashing “A” is good, and occasionally a prompt will appear onscreen giving you a simple gesture to enact an über-move. And this works well on my initial playthrough on the easiest setting: hold Z, dodge with D-pad, mash A. Easy. Blasting through the first level, and it’s all very interesting – but you don’t actually feel like you’re doing anything – the button mashing is animating Travis very nicely, and there seems to be a fair bit of carnage going on by your blade. The first time you have to recharge your katana is a bit of a surprise, but hey – the rapid Wiimote wanking action is second nature. To me, at least.

Eventually you reach the first boss fight, after a chat on your Wiimote cellphone (make sure the speaker on the Wiimote is on, lest you’ll be as confused as I was!). These brief interludes with love-interest-come-boss Sylvia Christel on the phone – and in the pre- and post-mission cut-scenes – are a maelstrom of cheese, corn, and uneven writing; Travis goes from drooling puppy-dog to sneering dismissive with no real rhyme or reason. Sylvia is, of course, a bitch for a reason, but let’s face it – the storytelling isn’t NMH‘s strong suit.

Where the game comes into its own is in the boss battles.
Somewhere around the interweb I heard that No More Heroes shared a character designer with the (rather excellent) Speed Grapher anime, something which the IMDB page for NMH doesn’t verify. Despite the discrepancies, there’s certainly similarities between the two, with bold boss-characters that verge on the bizarrely risqué: from the crotch-laser-toting Destroyman, to the “fuck you, ya little prick” goading of Speed Buster, to the Uma Thurman-esque Bad Girl who provides panty-loving fan service. But the bosses are the only characters that receive any TLC whatsoever; all the other entities you encounter in the game are either completely nondescript low-polygon grunts (grinding katana-fodder for further progress) or hopelessly under-developed side characters (the mysterious – and buxom – Dr Naomi, and the proprietors of various shops).

Bad Girl’s got a filthy mouth. Bless ‘er.

Outside those boss encounters, the “Punk’s Not Dead” ethic of Suda51’s Grasshopper Manufacture is stamped all over No More Heroes – the overworld of Santa Destroy is a jarring mish-mash of beautiful skylines and boxy cars. The washed-out colours and innocuous sounds of the environments give way to brash interstitials, all big guitar chords and bold colours splashed on white. The game exudes style at every turn – it’s just that it’s a different style every time. Go kill a squillion bad guys, raining ash/blood on the landscape, then spend ten minutes petting your cat. Gameplay and graphics from this millennium as you do battle, but back to the eighties for chunky retro status screens and jolly bleepy-boop high-score music. As I said, a mish-mash. Patchwork. Incoherent.

But you can’t help but think that the overworld is so clunky it could only possibly be a joke – a parody of sandbox games, perhaps? – but a joke isn’t necessarily the most fun thing to play. In fact, if there is any complaint that could be levelled at NMH, it’s that the early levels require a bit of grinding – odd jobs or samey assassination missions to fund access to later levels. Whilst this isn’t a massive inconvenience, it does remind you that your “sandbox” is, essentially, linear; you’re always striving to see that next big battle.

After 18 hours, I’d managed to mash my way through the Sweet (Easy) difficulty level. Another twenty or so hours had all my little OCD-driven side-missions wrapped up, and another playthrough on Sweet followed by Mild (Normal difficulty). There’s not much of a leap in difficulty there, and – while I was happy enough with the wacky ramblings of the characters and the gameplay in general – it was with a certain amount of weariness that I started (what I intended to be) my final playthrough on Bitter (Hard) difficulty.

And suddenly, everything’s changed.

Now, it’s true that NMH, at first, appears to be bland – a simplistic, but punkishly stylised, button-masher. But repeated playthroughs – in the fabulous Bitter mode – yield gameplay-changing rewards; rhythms of boss battles are exposed, generating the same kind of feeling that you get when suddenly hearing a buried instrument within a wall of music. The fights become intelligent, demanding cognition. Button-mashing serves no good whatsoever, and the game demands that you fight. And I want to fight these bosses – I see this challenge as something to be savoured, rather than persevered.

I’ve never, ever, felt this way about Boss Fights before.

I love this game. I love the way it has opened my eyes a little wider to the possibilities of gaming; I love that it recognises its place sitting at the edge of the mainstream gaming market, tongue planted firmly in cheek. I love the swaggering cocksureness it exudes, utterly confident in the knowledge of its weakpoints, its failings. I love the backhanded, last-minute throwback to Killer7; I love the competent Great White Giant Glastonbury shooter you find wodged in the middle of the game. I love the fact that Travis Touchdown’s defining monologue is delivered in the midst of the first boss battle, muddied and drowned by the action around it; I love that the brain-twisting monologue near game’s end is delivered in fast-forward, acknowledging the fact that this is, in fact, a game.

Yes, I had to learn to love it, and that’s not something a lot of people will actually bother to do; but I feel now it’s my job to tell others about this wonderful, wonderful experience. Push through that first playthrough, ignore the clunkfest of an overworld; drink in the wonderful Masafumi Takada soundtrack and unlock Bitter Mode. Please.

Shinobu – This girl delivered the Game Of The Year.

In the end, No More Heroes‘ failings are more tragic than erroneous: it’s a shame that few will push past the conflicted presentation, and a tragedy that fewer still will experience Bitter Mode. Regardless, No More Heroes is my Game Of The Year because it’s actually changed the way I think about gaming. That statement may sound lofty and pretentious, but it carries a lot of weight – because it’s true. Bitter convinced me that boss battles could indeed be glorious, rather than a massive pain in the arse; terrific, rather than just tolerable. I will rate my Bitter battles with Shinobu as my (single-player) highlight of the year – utterly, utterly fantastic fights: thrust, counter-thrust, heady attack, frantic defence, each bout whittling us both to within pixels of death. My losses left me feeling drawn, yet desperately eager for more; my breakthrough win felt fucking amazing.

And that feeling alone is Game Of The Year material for me.

Zack & Wiki: Quest for Barbaros’ Treasure

For a game as seemingly kid-oriented and innocuous as this, another of Capcom‘s attempts to create strong new franchises for the Wii, it sure was a time-sink. In fact, having just completed the game (in my usual O/C manner), the game clock is reading 53 hours, 53 minutes, spread over about a fortnight.

Which is odd, because the first play-through only took ten or fifteen hours.

From the opening orchestral strains, it’s clear that Zelda is a massive influence. The bulk of the score could charitably be called an homage to the Ocarina and Wind Waker soundtracks; the more cynical gamer might use a phrase featuring the word “rip”. Regardless, it fits the cartoony adventure of Zack & Wiki well.

The characters aren’t anything special – there’s little background proffered for the young pirate Zack, the miniskirt-wearing Captain Rose shifts little from her initial spoilt-bitch persona, and Wiki – a magical flying monkey who can instantly transform into a hand-bell – just annoys with his overly optimistic and sugar-sweet cutesy comments. They’re all beautifully depicted using vibrantly coloured cel-shading, which makes the experience of playing Zack & Wiki more akin to interacting with a cartoon.

Ah yes, the gameplay. Let’s cut to the chase: Zack & Wiki is a point-and-click adventure, similar to the SCUMM games of old. There’s very few reflex- (or “skill”-) oriented parts of the game, allowing you to explore the small levels, experiment with various object interactions, and generally just have fun with the experience.

That’s right – fun. It’s an really enjoyable experience, with the small levels and limited inventory facilitating the type of “problem-solving” that often trips other games of this type up – ie, the try-every-object-everywhere approach. The penultimate level took me upwards of four hours and three concerted efforts to solve; I can go back and knock the bugger off in 15 minutes now, however.

And that’s the biggest flaw in this game: the replayability, or lack thereof. Sure, the Obsessive/Compulsive in me gleaned another forty hours out of the title (and the time just flew by, performing gleeful 100% treasure hunts a-plenty); but, outside of maxing your highscore (which, once you’ve sussed the puzzles, is almost a step-by-step proposition) and acquiring all the collectibles (of which there are tons) there’s little to draw you back. And, whilst that’s an unavoidable failing of the fundamental structure of the game, it’s still a shame – Zack & Wiki is thoroughly enjoyable while it lasts, a fantastic reminder that sometimes it’s better to have a muddled think about a problem than go in with guns blazing.

(And, having just bashed out all of the above… Yahtzee says it so much better.)

Paper Mario / Super Paper Mario

So – I was in the midst of my Space Giraffe frenzy when I felt a bit of a lull – I wanted to try something a bit different (that’s not to say the the Giraffe isn’t different; in some ways, it’s the very definition of the word. But you know what I mean). Something drew me down to the Wii, sadly neglected in the last few months; I turn it on and start browsing the Virtual Console for ideas. Super Metroid? Nah – too intense. A Link to the Past? Mmmmmaybe. But then I saw the answer to my gaming blues – Paper Mario.

A brief aside – when I clicked the “Buy” button in the Virtual Console shop, I was an RPG virgin. The nearest I had got to anything RPG-like was Deus Ex and, though there are certain tactical advantages to be had in that game, it’s hardly the poster child for the Role-Players. So hearing that Paper Mario was a soft-RPG had me both eager and excited: I was entering the outskirts of a new genre.

And bugger me if I didn’t start smiling the moment I started playing Paper Mario. And kept smiling for the next forty hours. From the simple charm of the eponymous graphics – flat, 2D graphics, sliding and flipping their way through a cheeringly colourful 3D world – to the gigglingly twee storyline, even the N64-era jolly chip tunes… Paper Mario was a wonderfully addictive experience, one of those games that you almost don’t want to end.

I loved the turn-based combat. I loved the side quests. I loved the level-up mechanisms… I loved levelling up. I loved the level interludes that had you guiding the imprisoned Princess Peach around. I loved that shady chap who you could pay to switch your levels around. I loved the small puzzle elements. I loved kicking the shit out of that massive Koopa bastard, and I loved serving the whims of the cranky Koopa. I loved all the characters, both incidental and sidekick. I loved just wandering around talking to people. I loved weighing up the pros and cons of each of the three abilities: Health Points, Flower Points, and Badge Points. I loved letting my OCD kick in and collecting Badges. I love the trek through the final level. And I’m going to love going back and trying out all the recipes.

And most of all, I loved the way this game makes me feel. Cute and perky, tongue-in-cheek, never taking itself seriously, never letting a joke run too long – you’ve always got a smile on your face, and the Game Over screen is never glowered at. It’s perfectly pitched, wonderfully weighted, and I can’t wait for my memory to fade so I can play it again.

And so, after 40 gorgeous hours of Paper Mario (including the fantastic end sequence with a glorious, if largely inconsequential, side-battle that actually made me jump and yell “take THAT Kammy Koopa, you fat fucking shithead!”) I thought that the new Wii chapter of the series – Super Paper Mario – would be a sure bet. I was expecting sharper graphics (the N64 incarnation, bless it, suffered a little from Fuzzy Chunk-O-Vision), a bit more depth (after all, the original was a mere 40 megabytes!), but basically more of the same.

I would’ve been happy with that.

Woulda, shoulda, coulda.

How terribly wrong I was. Almost as soon as the game started up for the first time. Yep, the sharp graphics were there, but what’s with the overly sentimental opening every time I start the game? And the jarring jaunty tune that follows it?

And where’s my bloody turn-based combat?


Super Paper Mario is indebted to the previous Paper Marios in terms of graphic style, and to earlier traditional platform-based Mario games for play mechanics. Unfortunately, the RPG elements that so entranced me have been simplified to such an extent that they’re no longer challenging, nor enjoyable. Levelling up is score-based, automatic, completely out of the player’s hands. There’s no decisions to be made, few side quests to pursue. The much-vaunted flip into the third-dimension feels gimmicky, and its use is either bluntly telegraphed or horribly forced.

The ancillary characters, so wonderfully realised in the first Paper Mario, were gone – replaced by a bunch of non-dimensional, characterless, half-witted SQUARES that jiggle around pretending to be the inhabitants of Flip/Flopside. Geez, they shit me to tears – so utterly, utterly un-engaging, their presence actually made me feel more lonely… even whilst traipsing around this paper world in a party of four that includes Mario’s brother, lover, and nemesis (another jarring decision). Boss battles are mildly interesting, but more often than not are either a battle of persistence or (once you cycle through the characters to determine the most effective offensive option) a walkover.

To be honest, by the time I entered Chapter 5 I was almost praying for this game to end. Yes, I finished it; yes, I succumbed to OCD and performed all the post-game snippets – recipe collecting (spent aaaaages trying to find one more dribble of Inky Sauce), card collecting (ggggnnnnnnnnn), the Flipside Pit Of 100 Trials, the Sammer Guy Showdown (another 100 battles), the Flopside Pit Of 100 Trials – twice. And now, it’s over – and I couldn’t be happier.

Now, I’ve never played the original Super Mario RPG, nor have I played the Gamecube iteration of the series (The Thousand-Year Door, which apparently merges the turn-based combat system with cleared graphics); so any criticism of the series as a whole would be suspect at best, and more likely completely misguided. But I get scared when an earlier game plays so incredibly well, but later games rub me entirely the wrong way (see also Metroid Prime and its direct sequel). Here’s hoping the 3D Mario series doesn’t turn out the same way – even though I’ve barely scratched the surface of Super Mario 64, I can tell it’s a stone-cold classic; and I want Super Mario Galaxy to have the same impact.

Super Paper Mario is a mild curiosity, entertaining at best, dull action-grinding at worst; the original Paper Mario is a life-changer. There’s your capsule review.

The Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess

First thing’s first: what’s my Zelda background? I claim completage of the original Legend of Zelda, the much-maligned Zelda II, Ocarina of Time, and Wind Waker. There’s moments of utter joy to be found in all of them, but there’s also moments of “WTF?”, “you fucking bastard” and “fuck this, I’m off to GameFAQs”. The mood of the Zelda games is what sucks me in and permits me to label them “great”, despite their penchant for occasionally obscure problems.

They grow up so fast…

And so we come to a new console, and a new Zelda; and, as usual, it all starts out a little twee, meeting all your chums and catching fish for cats and befriending birds and avoiding bees and… it’s pretty boring. But here’s the thing: if you can survive the dullness of the first few hours, you’re in for a treat – it gets much much infinitely much better. If, on the other hand, you really enjoyed the goat herding, horse washing, and the bloody annoying clan of children who dote on you, you’ll literally explode in bliss later in the game.

I can’t pick the point at which the game turned from a somewhat tedious trek to a blissful bounty – but I suspect it was when a baboon spanked its arse in my general direction. That made me laugh – a lot. In fact, despite the darker-than-usual storyline, there’s a lot to laugh at; incidental characters like the Fortune Teller and the flamboyant Cucco master add a lot to the giggles.

All your Zelda regulars are here – the mazes that have you running around in pointless circles until you get off your arse and map the buggers out. Dungeons that are a perfect mix of “whaaaaa?” and “aaaaaah!” Some familiar weapons are a little tweaked; the upgrade for the old hookshot is a pleasant surprise, and works like a charm. Likewise, the boomerang gets a bit of a makeover, and the inventory screen gets tarted up and is a treat. There’s plenty for the O/C amongst us to do – Heart Pieces a-plenty, along with the usual Poes and a few other little collect-em-ups which initially shock in scope before you realise that it’s 5am and you’ve just spent the last 8 hours roaming Hyrule but at least that’s done no wait there’s more.

Boss battles are epic, engaging, visually delicious and – above all – fun; more Wind Waker than Ocarina. And taking another leaf from Celda, there’s a fantastic boss battle redux near the end of the game which reminds you of all the goodness that has come before.

And that’s the thing about this latest Zelda installment – it knows exactly what it is, and where it’s come from; there’s a certain self-assuredness about it. But it’s learnt from the mistakes of earlier games, too – there’s no obscure puzzles (even all the Heart Pieces are easy to find!), there’s no long treks required, and there’s certainly no fucking annoying bosses (Bongo Bongo, I’m looking at you). It all just effortlessly flows along, dragging you blissfully in its wake.

Twilight Princess is just packed full of Moments – extravagant boss battles, great storytelling, arse slaps, character entrances, the thrill of the new. Minutes or hours spent fishing. Oddball action sequences that, as in Mario 64, just seamlessly blend right into the game. The first time you stream onto Hyrule field atop a motion-blurred Epona, sword drawn, hacking evil minions… akin to the first steps onto Hyrule field as young Link in Ocarina, it’s one of those Gaming Moments that you’ll never forget.

Of course, the benefit of having not one, but two “platonic” love interests (the rather plain Zelda and the fiery hotness of the eponymous Twilight Princess) for our effeminate hero merely adds two inches of sweet, sweet icing to an otherwise calorific cake. Dreams of a Princess threesome leave me in a sticky slumber most nights, now.

It’s pretty obvious I like this game. And I’ve not mentioned a thing about how the Wii handles… so let’s be brief: the graphics are fine, the sound is great (except for the tinny Wiimote speaker which occasionally feels overused), and the controls are brilliant. By game’s end, when you’re dispatching Lizardmen with a Z-lock, two jabs of the Wiimote and a flick of the nunchuck, you’re convinced that there’s no other way to play the game.

So – is this game perfect? Hell no – to attain that status, I shouldn’t have had to hunt out orange rupees like a madman to complete one sub-quest, nor had that dull intro, and the end-game would have involved female nakedness and hard-core lesbian frivolities. Many interweb twonks will cry “it’s too easy!” or “it’s too linear!” or “it’s just a GameCube port!”

And you know what? They’re right (except for that guy who says “it’s too easy.” Possibly the most rock-fucking-hard Zelda moment ever is hidden in there.)

But you know what else?

And pay attention, because this is the really important part:

It’s A Really, Really, Fun Game.

I’ve spent 75 hours and four AA batteries traipsing around the world of Twilight Princess, and I’m not bored yet… nor am I finished. And nor has it stopped providing me with FUN. It all adds up to the deepest, most complete experience on the Wii – nay, the entire Next-Gen – so far.

Wii – First Thoughts…

Righto – so the Wii was released in Australia on December 7, and it (allegedly) sold out, making it the biggest console launch in Australian history. I pre-ordered way back in September, and eagerly awaited the 9am store opening (no midnight launch for me, as I do my bricks-and-mortar shopping at an independent).

So – how is it?

Well, I’m amazed at just how well the Wiimote works – lovely and responsive. Wii Sports is an absolute belter, with the exception of the baseball (which seems to be a bit wishy-washy to me). Wii Play is barely worth the AU$10 it cost as part of the Wiimote bundle. And Zelda is, quite frankly, a little dull at the moment.

But the killer app is, without a doubt, Wii Sports Tennis. It’s absolutely brilliant, and even the completely un-sporty sister-in-law managed to flail about enthusiastically. The inclusion of Mii-s in the background in some of the events is delightful.

More to come, no doubt, as I dutifully plough through Zelda