Thursday, April 13, 2017

Video Game Review: Puzzle & Dragons Z Super Mario Bros. Edition

“Match-three” games, in which you line up or three or more similar icons or shapes in order to clear them from a board, are one of the most popular sub-genre of puzzle games. Candy Crush Saga was the most-played Facebook game of 2013. (Chances are, you probably got a Candy Crush Saga game request while reading this intro.)
Games like Chuzzle and Bejewelled – arguably the most popular match-three game on PC – from PopCap have garnered over a 150 million downloads over the last 14 years. Columns was the first match-three game that hooked me, and I have fond memories of playing it with my grandfather on my trusty Sega Mega-Drive – he didn’t approve of Streets of Rage or Ultimate Mortal Kombat 3, you see.
Puzzle & Dragons Z + Super Mario Bros. Edition (a mouthful that is doing wonders for my word count) continues this fine tradition and adds three innovations to the mix, free-form version of the classic match-three format, RPG elements (with monster collecting) and Super Mario. It’s available on the Nintendo DS/3DS handheld now.
The original Puzzle & Dragons was a free-to-play mobile game, financed by micro-transactions. Would a handheld port offer as much value for the price-savvy consumer? Let’s find out…
The main game is familiar to those who’ve played any of the 3DS Pok√©mons, down to the visuals and the now-obligatory chat the hero has with his mum before beginning his quest. The story then takes a Game of Thrones turn, sans Red Weddings and questionable relationships, as you take possession of three dragon eggs that will eventually lay waste to the land of ‘I’m not actually sure’.
Levelling up the Mushroom Kingdom.
The RPG elements remind me of career mode in fighting games, adding a layer of longevity to what is essentially a repetitive format (match orbs to defeat monsters).
Like Mortal Kombat, I guess the developers realise you need a hook to extend the experience. I’m still on the fence whether I like it or not. I don’t think I played as strategically as the game wanted me, hardly ever augmenting my attacks with special items. On the plus side, unlike other retail games that have the chutzpah to hide large chunks of content behind various paywalls, Nintendo have assured consumers that there won’t be any micro-transactions in the game.
I was initially sceptical to the extent that Mario and co. will integrate with the classic Puzzle & Dragon experience having been disappointed with the Nintendo-themed extras in Tekken and Bayonetta 2 on the Wii U, but it was refreshing to experience a game that was so well-considered.
I shouldn’t be too surprised – the Mushroom Kingdom has a diverse range of hobbies and Nintendo protects its flagship IP from glitch half-baked games (Nintendo would have never allowed Assassin’s Creed: Unity to be published if Mario was in it).
Removed from the higher-order RPG elements, the Super Mario version tells a simpler, familiar tale; one of kidnapping and rescuing. And yes, I can confirm that the victim was last spotted wearing pink.
Eskom gifted me with many opportunities to use the 3DS and I plonked many of those darkened hours in the Super Mario mode. Stripped of the RPG elements, the Super Mario mode gave me quick thrills as I lapped up the familiar comfort of Shigeru Miyamoto’s vision, ploughing through waves of goombas and koopa troopas on a rudimentary rock, paper, scissors turn-based format.
Half-way through the first world there was a considerable spike in difficulty. And I died. A lot. After two continues I breezed through the next few stages before facing another Brock Lesnar type Goomba.
If I have any major complaints, it’s that Puzzle & Dragons Z + Super Mario Bros. Edition is a lot like 2-in-1 shampoo and conditioner. You’re getting two products in one handy package, which seems like great value for money, until you realise that you’re only getting half a bottle of each.
I would recommend this game to anyone who enjoys puzzle titles, and is looking for a deeper alternative to Candy Crush Saga. The difficulty spikes are sometimes frustrating to the point that I rattled my 3DS like Homer choking Bart, so if you’re new to the genre, or have little patience, I suggest you start with something like Bejewelled instead.
This review originally appeared in HTXT

Monday, April 10, 2017

Why 90's games are making a comeback

Recently did a Q and A with the team at Fin24 on why Nineties games are making a comeback.

1) Have you noticed an increase in the number of older consoles being sold again and since when?

There’s a significant increase in the number of retro consoles that are being sold, with most targeting an older nostalgic market. The rise is probably due to a few reasons:
The proliferation of emulators and the ease in which people can get older game files on mobile phones, single-board computers like Raspberry Pi, web browsers etc. One way to combat this as a manufacturer is to release your own version of the console
New TV inputs and standards like HDMI present a challenge for those who have kept their older machines, hence manufacturers like Sega and Nintendo have released the retro consoles with HDMI.

2) Why do you think these consoles are being sold again? Do you think it’s a demand from customer or an attempt to draw nostalgia from customers by manufacturers?

A lot of the machines have added functionality and features. The Sega Mega Drive Arcade Ultimate Portable Player as the name suggests is portable, allowing the player to experience authentic 16-bit games on the move. The console comes bundled with 80 games, spread across a number of genres. It’s much easier to gauge demand from consumers, especially for nostalgia products like these consoles – manufacturers can analyse google search trends around specific titles and listen to social media conversation to determine and forecast success.

3) What consoles do you know of, are being sold now?

There are a few popular retro consoles available in South Africa at the moment – The Atari Flashback 6, The Nintendo NES Classic edition, the Sega Mega Drive: Arcade Classic and Ultimate Portable player. The Nintendo and Sega machines are easier to find (Nintendo does have a worldwide shortage at the moment)

Image result for mini nes

4) A typically older console is now retailing for around R800, however a game for PS4 or Xbox One can exceed that amount – Do you think parents might see an older console as a cheaper alternative to keep their kids occupied?

While parents will undoubtedly see value in a 80-in-1 console, with the exception of a few games like Super Mario Brothers, most games are only fun to play for nostalgic value and little else. Chances are, if a kid wanted Fifa 17 for Christmas and got a retro console like the Atari Flashback 6, I imagine the kid will be disappointed.

Click here to read the article 


Sunday, April 09, 2017

Video Game Review: Mario Party 10

Professional wrestling is often predicated on the notion that there’s a fan-favourite to cheer and a villain to boo. This age-old narrative is evident in all popular media, including video games; for every Ryu, there’s an M.Bison, for every Warden a broodmother and of course, for every Mario a Bowser.
It’s-a him, Bowser!
This animosity is usually so apparent that both sides don’t even share a locker room.
This is what makes the Mario games so perplexing: that Peach constantly gets kidnapped by Bowser, and then joins him for a four-ball, tennis match and a race at Mario Circuit (which is basically Zwartkop raceway with fewer questionable mushrooms).
Mario Party 10 at its core is a series of mini-games held together by a four-player virtual board game experience across a variety of Super Mario World locations. Each game requires four players, but not to worry, should you not have a full human team, the game supplies AI players.
Gold Reef City. We see you.
In Mario Party 10, there are three modes to play: Mario Party, Bowser Party (a new mode which added an interesting spin on the old mechanic) and amiibo Party, which incorporates Nintendo’s character figures.
There are five boards in total this time around, so initially I felt a little cheated as the predecessor had seven. But a bigger issue emerged after two playthroughs: none of the stages were particularly memorable. There were different bosses, and small structural changes, but everything seemed like a chore, with the boss being nothing more than a delay to the end.
Eighteen hours in and I don’t have a favourite, compared to Super Mario World where I loved any level that kept me above water and away from those dreadful fish.
Watch out for the beep beep Cheep-cheeps!
I owned a copy of the original Mario Party back when people danced awkwardly to Eiffel 65’s Blue and no one really knew what the Matrix was about. Sixteen years on and not much has changed in those respects, but the world has moved on in other ways and Mario Party 10 – for all its charm and nostalgia – remains a relic of a time passed.
An area where the game suffers is that the game boards take, on average, half an hour to complete.
The original Mario Party never had to compete for attention against a huge selection of instant message services, social media networks and video-on-demand content providers. Half an hour might not seem like a long period of time, especially for those who emerge from Call of Duty sessions after days, hiding from sunlight like unsparkly vampires, but I would be lying if I said it wasn’t a challenge. Perhaps this is due to the long loading times, the scarcity of actual mini-games and the inability to skip or speed up the computer’s turn.
In this way, Mario Party is a lot like riding the Cobra at Gold Reef City – lots of waiting around before a small jolt of fun. It didn’t help knowing that a vast majority of the game relied on luck, and I often felt frustrated with the balancing or rather, the lack thereof. And annoyingly, it’s very similar to Mario Kart in that the computer will just catch up towards the end to add some stress in a “weird fixed game show” sort of way.
Hope you packed some Peaceful Sleep.
One of the bigger challenges I faced was that the game requires a Wii-mote in order to play.
Long ago I gifted my Wii to undeserving niblings, leaving me with only one Wii-mote. I found this to be problematic, but also rather indicative of the machine’s shortcomings as it can’t seem to shake off its Wii legacy. This is perhaps a reason why the Wii U failed to take off; I’m sure lots of people still buy Wii U games and try playing them on their Wiis.
Perhaps I’m biased because the original N64 had four controller ports, and lent itself to local four-player split-screen action. I guess it’s a sign of the times that online play has eroded this previously-popular method of gaming.
Feed me Mario… and Peach… and Luigi… and Wario.
Mario Party 10 does continue a long tradition of first-party games on Nintendo’s Wii U console, in that the graphics are amazing. They have a sheen to them that rivals Super Mario 3D Land and Super Smash Bros for the Wii U. The game really is a pleasure to behold, it’s just not a lot of fun to play.
I’m a huge Nintendo fan, but I can’t help but feel underwhelmed at this offering. Forgettable mini-games, poor pacing and no real memorable moments make Mario Party 10 the Hulk Hogan in a John Cena world, holding on to something past and being unable to evolve.
This review originally appeared in