You know the drill.
Resident Evil - The Umbrella Chronicles
|Expect more from this chap come the end of the year. Hopefully|
First up; worst title ever? Better believe it! Thankfully, the game's way more enjoyable than its giggle-fest moniker would have you believe, and a rare third-party treat for the still mildly struggling Wii. While nothing close to the all-encompassing brilliance that was Resident Evil 4
by any means - nor anywhere near as ambitious - Umby Chrons is a more stream-lined, light-gun style take on the genocidal zombie wasting series that's still kinda cool in its own right. There's been such things tried before in this franchise so I'm told, but as one who only jumped on board the Resident Evil freight train with the previously mentioned #4, I can't say I've dabbled in such things myself (...and hear I'm better off keeping it that way).
Shitty predecessors aside, UC is a reasonably sweet realization of that same basic concept. The Wii-mote is all but a light-gun by default after all, with such point 'n' shoot shenanigans working themselves seamlessly into the action. You can map fire to the A or B buttons depending on preference, while shaking the 'mote reloads your gun, and the D-pad switches firearms. And that's about it. Plugging in the optional nun-chuck attachment provides some extra viewpoint shifting should you so desire it, but it's not a necessity by any means. The game moves around by itself on-rails; you simply smoke zombified fools to survive the rollercoaster.
|Expecting beauty would be a mistake, but as far as shitty looking Wii games go, UC ain't as bad as most|
There's help along the way, of course. The varied selection of brain-exploding RE weaponry you'd expect is all present and correct, from magnums and rocket launchers to more traditional machine guns and shotties. You can upgrade these as you progress too, rendering some pretty darn powerful towards the end of the game. The SMGs were my personal pick, with the spray 'n' prey mentality they afford taking me right back to my pre-pubic jail-bait days of ripping through Operation Wolf in seedy Brighton arcade halls. Firing off hundreds of rounds per minute into every wall and crevice you can find reveals a shocking amount of scenery interactivity incidentally; knocking out lights, blowing aside barrels, and massacring hanging artwork all reveal hidden items and the odd secret path that adds some mild exploration. Throw in some story-based unlockable documents, end of level ratings and (mildly confusing) co-op play, and that's pretty much UC from top to bottom.
It's a simple game, you see. There's no real depth, not a ton of levels, and its undeniably short on the life-span tip. Once you get over some mundane opening levels and snag yourself a decent gun, it turns surprisingly enjoyable for one so dense however. The concept of remaking and retelling pivotal moments from the past Resident Evil games proves useful for one such as me who's never sampled their delights before, getting you up to speed on all things zombie in prime preparation for the upcoming #5. From the plethora of cut-scenes, endless voiceovers and those previously touched upon unlockable documents, there's more Resi info here than you could ever possibly need in fact; everything from character profiles to detailed lab reports on end of level bosses and beyond.
|Even Capcom's ever awesome cut-scene work can't breathe any vague interest into UC's snore-inducing plot|
Unfortunately, this comes with a somewhat sad realization. In terms of story, the Resident Evil universe is a wee bit shit, 'init? I guess blissful ignorance hid this from me 'til now, and it's a bit depressing to discover the unfortunate truth. Anti-hero Wesker's a fun guy, with his sub-levels an enjoyable blast in particular, but each and every hero of the saga is about as interesting as a bog-roll, and the tale of evil bioengineering corporation Umbrella and their crazy zombie experiments ain't a whole lot better. It's vanilla flavoured B movie horror bollocks that doesn't particularly warrant all this extra reading.
Nope, great fiction, this ain't. It's merely a brain-less light-gun blaster designed for arcade lovers and speed-run freaks. Blazing though the refreshingly short levels over and over, unlocking each and every gun, while continually perfecting your scores is what this game's all about, rather than the detailed and engrossing look into the RE world that I was perhaps expecting.
That's fine though. The Wii needs more such fun, well-made third party content like this...it's just a pity Capcom seem to be the only ones interested in doing such things.
Zack & Wiki - Quest For Barbaros' Treasure
Speaking of which. Actually, after all the hype coming outta the US last year of this being the greatest Wii title of them all, I was sadly let down by Z&W to be honest. On hearing of its zany art style, fun premise and surprisingly poor sales, I had images in my head of the Wii's answer to Okami or Beyond Good & Evil. The underappreciated artsy gem. While it's sorta, kinda fun - ish - it houses way too many niggling flaws for it to be mentioned alongside the aforementioned classics.
|Z&W is an ever rare, grade A looker for the Wii. Lovely stuff that'll have you hating its ugly peers all the more|
Let's back-track first before the bashing commences though. Zack & Wiki is a cell-shaded, cartoony adventure game, taking minor inspiration from the old Lucasarts classics of the '90s. Zack's a wannabe pirate in search of buried treasure, and Wiki's his flying golden monkey sidekick...thing
(Japanese, much?). The concept's pretty ace in theory though, no? Who doesn't wanna play old skool point 'n' clicky adventure games with a Wii-mote in their hand after all? Place penis firmly back in pants; Z&W ain't about to deliver on that concept.
Rather than a fully seamless world in which to explore ala Monkey Island and friends, it's split up into tiny self-contained "levels" you see. A small handful of puzzles followed by a save point and a teleporting off to the next. This alone is hugely disappointing, and makes the game feel far more dumbed-down and un-engaging than I was hoping for.
The puzzles themselves are nicely done; pleasingly logical and never too obscure, yet they give way to frustration way too often thanks to zero checkpoints and an emphasis on trial and error. Instant deaths run rampant, and if you're outta resurrection tickets, it's all the way back to the beginning every time you fuck up. Which will be often.
|I hate contrarians as much as the next guy, honest, it just let me down something fierce. Soz|
I guess the true saving grace comes from the Wii-mote use. Rather than the old "use cat with fishing line" antics of old, here you use gesture recognition for all such tomfoolery. Everything from sawing trees in half to dropping items into holes is done in a quasi-VR manner via the Wii-mote, and it's way more fun and interactive than previous point 'n' clickers ever were as far as inventory use goes. Now we're weaving and waggling, and I love it.
Such functionality is far from faultless, mind you. Despite the wide range of moves you're seemingly tasked with, you can actually get away with merely shaking the wand around randomly to pull most off, rather than the specific, detailed instructions the game pretends to give you. Meanwhile, some sections like the (thankfully optional) music box mini-game work dreadfully by comparison, or feel simply flat-out broken.
Z&W is one of the better looking Wii games yet I should mention. Coming across like a more detailed take on Wind Waker at times, it boasts lovely animation and a cutesy, original style that'll have you promptly forgetting the system's pitiful specs and crappy output. It's a fine addition to the arsenal of "art versus technology" next-gen-a-phobes, even if it can't match up to the last-gen classics listed above.
When it clicks, there is something special buried deep down within here, don't get me wrong. Figuring out a puzzle after scratching your head for half an hour, then physically getting involved with the gesture-based stuff provides glimmers of coolness that similar such games could most definitely build upon and create something genuinely special out of. I don't hate the game by any means then, it's just hella frustrating and completely under-realised.
Geometry Wars Galaxies
"Geometry Wars" is possibly the single phrase I've muttered more than any other on the site since launch. If ever a pair o' words deserved it though, eh? Along with name-dropping the damn thing any chance I get - from amidst discussions with my vet about my cat's thyroid, to fierce Iraq war debates down at the pub - I also reviewed the original game in a Live Arcade round-up here
, then threw together an exhaustive (and worryingly angry) gamer's guide to the sucker here
. If you never had the "pleasure", check 'em out. There's even a video to go with the latter.
|The 400 point downloadable Live Arcade classic returns! Bigger, better, (and uglier) than before!|
The 360's greatest launch game, and arguably the title most responsible for the influx of downloadable budget-ware titles now devouring our monthly incomes, Geometry Wars: Retro Evolved set a high standard for such things right from the get go you see. A simple 2D blaster on the face of it - turned insanely brilliant thanks to glorious presentation, brilliant art, and ever addictive online leaderboards - it snared potent '80s arcade nostalgia, then brought it lovingly up to date for the kids of today and old farts alike.
The lack of a Live Arcade sequel has proven worrying up 'til now, but thanks to the Wii, it seems we now have one at last. Sorta. It's good too. Galaxies is a lavish bumper pack of Geo Wars love that goes way above and beyond the call of duty in fact; there's just so much damn game here, I almost don't know where to begin.
Rather than settle for one mere mode that you replay ad-nauseam as before, Galaxies gives you a genuine campaign to work through for one. Imagine if Retro Evolved - or the recent PGR4 mini-game "Waves" - were mere single levels in a far grander game. That's Galaxies. There's an amazing variety of missions on offer here, continually altering and mutating the experience as to keep it far more entertaining as a result. While you continue to dodge, weave and shoot your way through each and every one as you'd expect, the shape of the levels, the way the enemies act and the inventive use of spawn patterns renders each of its 60 odd outings far different to the last.
Some opt for more traditional square based shoot-outs, sure, but there are also now Pacman-like mazes to contend with, gravity affecting whirlpools that you can barely even steer around, and even sweet arse teleporters zapping you around crazy shaped arenas like wormholes. It feels like just about every possible idea and concept for the 2D shoot 'em up is thrown in here somewhere, so much so that one questions what exactly's left to try in this series now.
|New enemies include these ginormous mutated version of "classic" Geo baddies|
The quick-fire nature to these levels keeps 'em fun and fresh too. Those like me who all but perfected Retro Evolved (ahem), will join me in whining about the ludicrous length of that game. When hitting the millions on the score board, bettering your personal best became more of a test of stamina, than fun-based shooting. Such a simple concept grew unsurprisingly boring when engaged for upwards of 45 minutes a pop, despite Geo Wars' insane speeds and epileptic colours. Galaxies does away with that thankfully. It cuts straight to the chase, with each and every enemy bumping your multiplier up, reaping in the points by the thousands per second, thus sending your high-score into the stratosphere. Snagging the elusive gold medals will of course take far more time and perseverance, but for the most part, five minutes later, you're onto the next level. Refreshing.
It feels odd talking at such depth about so seemingly simple a game, but in a pleasing twist, there's a fair bit to Galaxies you see. In addition to a ton of awesome new enemies and that crazy new campaign, there's a fab new drone feature too. Controlled automatically, he'll hover around your ship the entire time, helping you out along the way, and leveling up in the process. Exactly how he does said helping, is entirely up to you however. There are eight drone skills you can assign to him, depending on the mission at hand and what you need done, with each affecting the little douche's behavior hugely. "Defend" for exactly, has him shoot directly behind you at all times - useful for stopping those pesky blue-ball bastards that erupt outta black holes - while "Bait" sends homey off on his own to draw enemy fire to other parts of the arena. This is all super sweet stuff, and adds way more depth to the game than is arguably even needed. For the most part, you can actually stick to just bog-standard "Attack" in fact, which merely piles on more full-frontal forward fire. Skills like "Ram" and "Snipe" prove next to useless by comparison.
The features keep coming though. There's a two player mode now, letting you blast through the game alongside a pal at long-last. Not to mention, the oh so needed online leaderboards, making an out-of-place, if slightly convoluted appearance on a Nintendo console for once. Heck, there's even a DS link-up feature too, one that lets you zap across a pristine version of Retro Evolved to your dinkiest of handhelds for on-the-run Geo Wars fun (boasting surprising enjoyment, I might add).
|On the Wii, Geo Wars looks identical to the 360 game running on a crappy SD TV. That is to say, a little "murky", but still pwetty|
In fact, as a complete package there's only two real areas where Galaxies drops the ball for me. While your ever reliable drone's fab for instance, the lack of any new actual
guns is a silly oversight, and more perplexing than anything. More importantly than that...this game has serious control issues as far as the Wii-mote is concerned. In that it's, umm...fucking rubbish. Waggling a targeting reticule around the screen sorta
works at first, but it lacks precision and falls apart when all hell breaks loose. Which let's be honest, is what this game's all about, no?
Nintendo's "Classic" controller will therefore be required to get the most outta this title, which turns the game back into the twin-sticked analogue brilliance we know and love. Even though Galaxies is a budget-ware title as it should be, when coupled with the purchase of said peripheral you're looking at ?30 to ?40 for the complete package, which by my math is about a ten million percent price hike over the Xbox Live game. Not cool really.
Arguably worth it, though. When I think about how many hours I got outta Retro, I feel I owe this series a little extra cash anyway. Galaxies continues to nurture the seed of brilliance which that game gave birth to, while taking it to pleasing new places that fellow experts will surely welcome. It is what it is at the end of the day; the most old skool of genres, and far from as jaw-dropping at it was even two years ago now, but there's no denying the winning formula still contained within this demented mixture of rainbow-like color and aural insanity.
As mentioned, I'd be surprised to see more Geo Wars after this - at least in its current form - as Galaxies pretty much squeezes every last drop o' urine outta this flaccid lil' willy you could imagine. But I ain't complaining. 'Cos I'm an addict. A long user who thought he was clean. And one who outta nowhere, just snagged his biggest score yet...
Excuse me, I have, er, stuff to do.