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Wow.... For something a lot Nintendo haters thought wasn't going to do good, it sure is selling quick, on pre orders that is. I'm starting to wonder of we are going to have another situation like when the Wii came out. I saw that someone in eBay is already selling a Delux pre order for $700.00. Better pre order where you can now. As I'm aware of Walmart is accepting preorders on their version of a Delux set and basic. GameStop is still taking preorders for the basic set as well.
 
 
When one imagines the Japanese role-playing game (JRPG) genre, thoughts of epic series yielding a plethora of sequels and spin-offs such as Final Fantasy or Dragon Quest come to mind. The era of the Super Nintendo was without a doubt the height of all JRPGs across not only Japan but for Western audiences as well, bringing the release of classics like Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana and my personal favourite Final Fantasy VI. However, these past few years the JRPG genre has been fairly discreet, only bringing the occasional sequel of yet another Final Fantasy game. In Western society we often miss out on some of the greatest JRPG titles, and that may very well have been the case with Xenoblade, but after the valiant efforts of Operation Rainfall a belated American release is little more than a few days away! In a world where Final Fantasy reigns supreme, Xenoblade proves that there is much more to the unique genre than moogles and villains with lovely flowing hair (Sephiroth, I’m looking at you).

Playing as a stereotypical JRPG protagonist named Shulk, a young boy and heir to the legendary mechon-slaying sword known only as The Monado, you and several childhood friends set out on an epic journey to return peace to the feuding nations of Bionis and the mech-infested Mechonis. The player is quickly introduced to the setting of the Bionis and Mechonis: opposite worlds formed on the decaying husks of two giant robots eternally asleep whilst locked in an eternal battle. The whole situation seems rather over-the-top, and this is a given for any game of the genre, but it provides a deep and intricate history that is explains further as one progresses through the game.

Beginning in the quaint area of Colony 9, a peaceful settlement nestled in the Bionis where Shulk grew up, several unique characters are quickly introduced and the story unfolds right before your eyes. Much like most JRPGs the story is integral to the gameplay, and Xenoblade provides one that will have you absolutely hooked throughout your entire 60-70 hour playthrough. Characters are extremely varied and unique, and interaction between each of them during cutscenes, general conversation or ‘heart-to-hearts’ definitely adds to the overall emotion of the story. Although it might initially seem like Xenoblade is just a continuous repeat of running, followed by the obligatory boss battle and then a follow-up cutscene, this is done absolutely perfectly and allows action to be broken up by both exploration and emotion.

Character interaction is also a fundamental point of Xenoblade, as each and every playable character and NPC is registered in a character relationship chart. Getting used to this can be quite a confusing process, but perfecting between your own characters and also other NPCs carries great rewards such as additional side-quests, unique items or powerful weapons.

One of Xenoblade’s greatest gameplay strengths is presented in the form of combat. Aside from micro-managing hundreds of skills, equipment and characters that allow for an infinite number of combinations suited to your own style of battle, combat is extremely simple, fluid and enjoyable. Characters attack automatically similar to the real-time style of battle in Final Fantasy XII and as your characters automatically undergo combat you can assign your main character certain skills to use. You control a party of 3: one playable character whose actions you control completely and 2 AI partners that fight alongside you. Although AI can be frustrating on occasions, casting healing shots at wrong times or running off on their own to fight an enemy on a much higher level, generally this doesn’t affect combat too much. Enemies are varied, each with their own unique strengths, weaknesses and abilities. These are of the utmost importance during some of the later boss battles; without exploiting a certain enemy’s weakness there’s usually little to no chance of a victory.

Though very similar to the real-time battle system of FFXII, Xenoblade does have some very distinct features. Enemies can undergo 3 major statuses (accompanied by several others): break, topple and daze, each of which can be inflicted by several character skills. These ailments are fairly standard for most JRPG combat, but the most unique skill that Xenoblade allows players to use is the ability of foresight. Using the Monado (the absolutely badass mech-slaying sword of the gods) the player can see into the future of the battle in order to prevent an action that might prove fatal to one of the characters. This action is used especially in boss battles, and though it is definitely something that takes a lot of getting used to, using it appropriately can turn an entire battle to your advantage.

Although obviously limited by the Wii’s graphical power, Monolith Soft have managed to push the console to its absolute limits in order to create vast landscapes and stunning scenery. As the player traverses the diverse locations of both the Bionis and Mechonis you’ll often found yourself stopping and admiring the scenery for several minutes between the hectic combat. Xenoblade thrives on these detailed environments, as mediocre character models are made up for by vast landscapes filled with lush plant life such as Gaur Plains and Makna Forest, luminescent floating islands suspended above the Eyruth Sea, the incomprehensibly huge capital of Agniratha and even smaller detailed areas like Frontier Village. Simply explaining it with words definitely doesn’t do the game justice, to understand the true beauty of these environments they need to be experienced firsthand. Even without wondrous HD, Xenoblade still provides an entirely immersive experience in its scenery and pre-rendered cutscenes.

In addition to the spectacular graphics, Xenoblade exhibits a soundtrack created by legendary videogame composer Yoko Shimomura, known for her incredible work in Secret of Mana, Super Mario RPG and the widely-popular kingdom hearts series. Every track in the entire game is memorable, and overall I found this to be one of my favourite soundtracks of all time. Calm and relaxing music played on the Bionis and heavy thrash-metal of the Mechonis expertly distinguishes the two locations from each other in terms of atmosphere rather than simply appearance. Voice acting should also be noted, as a wide cast of British voice acting brings a breath of fresh air to a genre often dominated by horrible voices thrown on as a last-minute localisation (Baten Kaitos anyone?). Certain character voices such as Reyn or Riki tend to get on your nerves at times, but overall the voice acting is of very high-quality especially during tense cutscenes. The additional option of original Japanese voice-acting is also an added bonus for all the weaboos out there that enjoy the sound of a bit of incomprehensible Japanese babbling.

In all honesty it’s actually quite difficult to explain just how much of a gaming masterpiece Xenoblade: Chronicles really is. The perfect combination of story, emotion, perfect character development, fluid and enjoyable combat, infinite customisation, an incredible soundtrack and literally hundreds of hours of gameplay allows for what I believe to be one of the greatest games of all time. Xenoblade definitely deserves much more recognition than it currently receives, and is truly the greatest JRPG of this entire generation. For even the slightest fans of the JRPG genre, this is a game that I highly recommend everyone should play. Operation Rainfall should definitely be thanked for their efforts in permitting the localisation of Xenoblade: Chronicles, for without it Western gamers would be missing out on such a masterpiece possibly the greatest game for the Nintendo Wii console.

Visuals: 10/10 (All in all the best graphics ever seen on the Wii console.)

Sound: 10/10 (A truly epic soundtrack, some of the best songs I’ve ever heard in a videogame. One may have even made me shed a tear…)

Gameplay: 9.5/10 (Exploration through the massive landscapes is utterly incredible, not until you arrive at Gaur Planes do you realise how truly MASSIVE the overworld really is. Cutscenes and character interaction are some of the best seen in a JRPG. Battle system is near perfect aside from some foolish partner AI.)

Completion Length: 10/10 (Main story should take about 60-70 hours to complete, but completionists will find literally hundreds of hours of gameplay due to item collection and several hundred sidequests.)

Overall Score: 98%

So why are you still reading this? Go out and buy Xenoblade!

This has been Ben Qualbert Schuster dedicated Ninty fanboy. 

 
 
The Resident Evil series, named ‘Biohazard’ in Japan, is a classic of modern console gaming. Originally released on Sony’s first Playstation console, Resident Evil saw gaming delve into a genre that was previously unheard of: survival horror. But long gone now are the days of spooky mansions being the primary habitat for zombies. This time the series places the player in a variety of enemy-filled situations, the most significant of which is the Queen Zenobia, a sprawling cruise ship that just happens to be, yep you guessed it, a host to a horde of zombie-like creatures known only as B.O.Ws (malformed creatures that are capable of taking multiple ammo clips).

And while the series definitely has its roots set in survival horror, the previous title before Revelations, RE5, focussed more upon the action element of the game. And even though some action-heavy areas are present in Revelations, luckily this is minimised to only certain sections in Resident Evil: Revelations while the main component of gameplay is distinctly similar to that of the gaming masterpiece, Resident Evil 4.

As with most games in the Resident Evil series the story is fairly bland and cliché, and often cheesy at times; artificial island city (Teragrigia or ‘Grey Earth’) is created, city collapses and descends into a dystopia, evil organisation appears to create biological weapons to take over the Earth. Although the story is rather simple as expected from a series that places combat as its main strength, this is made up by some memorable characters and voice acting that is far better than the cringeworthy seen in the original Resident Evil. Characters are developed quite well not necessarily through story and cutscenes, but as you play you and your partner often converse and exchange smalltalk which is a nice addition.

But Resident Evil isn’t about story or character development, because it’s all in the combat! As expected, Resident Evil: Revelations pulls off the combat part of the game near flawlessly; making every bullet fired an enjoyable moment. Weapons are varied as the game progresses even if you are stuck with the typical weak handgun for the first few hours of gameplay. Enemies are varied and take many bullets before dropping to the ground, meaning that every bullet is a precious resource and should under no circumstances be wasted purely for the lulz. But as much as the eerie, dark corridors and spacious halls of the Queen Zenobia are a pleasure to play through, Revelations does itself harm by including lacklustre attempts at action sequences through various missions set in other locations containing Chris Redfield. These tend to be tedious, repetitive and really somewhat of a disappointment in comparison to the unnerving setting of the Queen Zenobia.

Rarely would a triple-A FPS/TPS find its way to a portable console, not only because of graphical limitations but due to issues with controls. Nintendo promptly solved this problem through use of the Circle Pad Pro which can be purchased in addition to the game and allows for a more fluid style of gameplay. The two slide pads work perfectly as analogue sticks, allowing you to control your character as you would using a standard console controller. The Circle Pad Pro is optional however, and the player has the alternative of choosing standard controls. Even though using an additional circle pad isn’t necessary, without it you lose the ability to completely control the camera, which drains slightly from the gameplay and makes some situations during combat much harder.

One aspect of Revelations that should definitely be appreciated is the beautiful graphics, without a doubt the best seen on the 3DS to date. Capcom have really pushed the console to its limits and have expertly utilised the console’s 3D capabilities to its full extent. Character models are extremely detailed, every fluid movement of your character is a joy to watch (especially when playing as Jill might I add) as well as the slow and daunting movement of the enemy. Environments are spectacular, whether it is the vast and snowy mountains of an undisclosed location in Europe, the sprawling sea as the Zenobia is tossed around during a Thunderstorm or the ominous foggy dining room nestled in the depths of the ship. By far the most impressive graphical aspect is the use of lighting, which is essential in a survival-horror genre; pale orange glows in rooms and hallways, sterile dimly lit grey walls of the Zenobia, it’s some of the best lighting ever seen in videogaming.

Much like any horror game, sound is definitely an important part in influencing the overall atmosphere of the game, and Revelations does this perfectly. When wearing headphones almost every terrifying sound-effect can be heard perfectly: the groaning of the B.O.Ws through the door to the next room, the creaking of the Zenobia, the sharp sound of gunshots. Not only is the sound in Revelations spectacular, but the game carries with it a memorable soundtrack of orchestral pieces, chilling music and some more intense music for those trivial action sequences.

For fans of single player there is of course the story mode, and in terms of co-op an additional ‘Raid Mode’ can be unlocked in which 1-2 players progress through a set area of enemies to achieve best times and scores. This in itself is extremely enjoyable and is a fine replacement for the lack of Mercenaries mode.

Whether or not you’re a fan of the Resident Evil series, you should definitely be able to enjoy the variation that Revelations brings. A chilling and atmospheric story mode in addition to a quick and fun co-op Raid Mode means Revelations definitely sets a very high bar for any future shooting games on the 3DS.

Visuals: 10/10 (Some of the best handheld graphics to grace any portable console)

Sound: 9/10 (Clear and atmospheric noises will have you jumping your of your seat in fear at times. Yes, that did happen to me at one point.)

Gameplay: 8/10 (Core gameplay of the survival-horror missions is almost perfect and Raid Mode is an excellent addition, but unfortunately the bland action sequences let the gameplay down.)

Completion Length: 8/10 (Completion length of the story should take 9-13 hours depending on your style of gameplay. There is some replay value for completionists that feel the need to unlock every single achievement, but otherwise there’s always Raid Mode to keep you coming back.)

Overall Score: 87%

 
 
Nintendo’s newest addition to the ever-growing eShop comes in the form of a classic on most consoles: pinball. Zen Pinball is quite a successful series, known for its popular downloadable titles on Xbox Live and the PSN, and Zen Pinball 3D is no exception. Providing 4 separate tables, each with 4 achievements on each table and upwards of 10 missions on each, content is extensive and will keep you mashing away on those trigger buttons until your fingers are sore and arthritic. The addition of online leader boards for each table and overall score provides an element of competition, meaning you’ll always come back in an attempt to dethrone that ridiculously high-score atop the leader boards.

Each table has its own separate theme, varying from the swords and lances of the Excalibur table to small city contained within the Earth Defence table. Tables are extremely detailed as when zooming in one can notice intricate details that can hardly even be seen when playing normally, and the 3D effect adds depth to each bumper, flipper and giant robot within the stage. This proves to be the main problem: the 3DS’ upper screen is unfortunately too small to contain most of the pinball table, and as a result of this at times it can be difficult to track the ball as it zooms around its detailed surroundings, this is somewhat countered by changing viewing modes but is still a hassle. I find it slightly disappointing that the lower screen is barely used, but the addition of a classic pinball dot-matrix down the bottom gives the game a bit of a retro feel.

Despite some small gripes, Zen Pinball 3D is a great game not only for avid pinball fans. I found myself absorbed by this game for a few days, and even now I’m still playing it occasionally (as I downloaded it about 2 months ago). For a $7 title, this one is hard to pass up. Pinball fan or not, if you’ve got the eShop cash lying around I highly suggest you buy this revamped version of a gaming classic.

8/10

This has been Ben Qualbert Schuster dedicated Ninty fanboy. 
 
 
It’s that time of year again when triple-A games begin flooding in, bringing about holidays in preparation for the gaming marathon some call ‘Christmas’, and this time we see the release of the newest instalment in Nintendo’s flagship racing series: Mario Kart 7. While it may be many years since we’ve seen the release of a portable Mario Kart game, with Mario Kart DS being released almost 7 years ago, the long wait for Mario Kart 7 has definitely been worth it. If you’ve been holding off on purchasing a 3DS, waiting for that killer game, here’s your reason!

Mario Kart 7 again heralds the return of a strong focus upon multi-player gameplay, and this time online multi-player is simpler and more addictive than ever. A simple ‘join game’ feature allows you to instantly drop into your friends’ current races (or at least wait until the next one starts), worldwide matches offer races from all across the globe, and the new community option brings to Mario Kart 7 quite a degree of competitiveness. Players can battle it out for a top position on the community leaderboard, join communities, and even create their own; it’s definitely a great addition to what is already satisfying online multi-player.

Local multi-player also returns, and now allows both Mario Kart 7 owners and download Players to be able to race together, which seems to be a step forward from the days of Mario Kart DS. Several modes are included in the local multiplayer, ranging from a simple Grand Prix mode where players race through pre-set batches of four courses competing for the most points, a strictly competitive VS mode, the infamous balloon battle and a new coin collecting mode. Though some Mario Kart purists may be a tad disappointed to the changes made to balloon battle, as this mode now consists of popping the most enemy balloons within a set time limit rather than somewhat of a survival mode, it still seems to offer shorts bursts of hectic gameplay which is most suited to Mario Kart 7’s local multiplayer. Similar to balloon mode, coin mode sees up to 8 players battling it out to collect the most coins on a map within a set time limit, and though a fresh addition to the Mario Kart series it tends to lose its appeal after a few matches.

Of course single player returns with the usual suspects: grand prix mode (in 50, 100, 150cc and mirror) offering a plethora of 16 beautiful new tracks and 16 old favourites redesigned for 7’s new kart features of hang gliders and underwater karts, a standard time trial mode to achieve the fastest times which allows for the recording and exchanging of ghost data, and of course a single-player battle mode. Though it is disappointing to see Mario Kart DS’ great ‘Mission Mode’ absent from the single player, Mario Kart 7 still provides an entertaining single-player as seen in most previous titles.

Though racing gameplay is largely the same, several additional features have been added: a new 1st person mode which allows the player to race from within the kart, steering with either the slide-pad or gyro controls (which to my surprise works a treat and is a rather unusual but refreshing way to race), additional items, new characters (but not nearly enough!), and of course: new karts! Kart customisation has also been improved, with the placement of coins around each raceway; the player can gather these coins to unlock new karts, wheels and hang gliders to customise their very own new and unique karts. Although, the options are rather limited and would have benefited from further customisation.

With the addition of new online features, Streetpass options, great visuals that seem almost perfectly suited to 3D, and without a doubt one of the highest levels of replay value a game can offer, Mario Kart 7 is an essential for any owner of a 3DS. Though nothing we haven’t already seen Mario Kart 7 is definitely a worthy addition to the popular racing franchise and like Mario Kart DS should develop a strong online community lasting even into the console’s later years.

Visuals: 9/10 – On par with Mario Kart Wii, the game make excellent use of the console’s 3D aspect, really breathing life into the vibrant and wacky tracks and offers unparalleled depth.

Sound: 8.5/10 – Revving engines and squeals from nearby characters accompany some catchy tunes as you drive along all 32 tracks.

Gameplay: 9.5/10 – Some of the best racing action of the entire Mario Kart series, tracks are as varied as ever and multiple gameplay modes will definitely keep you playing. Mario Kart is still some of the best multi-player that any series can offer.

Completion Length and Replay Value: 9/10 – The single-player campaign is easily finished in a couple of hours, but the online multi-player is undeniably the focus of Mario Kart 7. Though lacking in mission modes, you’ll definitely be replaying these tracks over and over.

Overall Score: 91%

Oh, and in case you’re wondering about the online community option, put this code into the community search bar: 04-0072-0457-3328. Look forward to seeing everyone online!
This has been Ben Qualbert Schuster dedicated Ninty fanboy.



 
 
For just over 25 years now the Legend of Zelda series has been gracing our screens with what many would consider to be the epitome of videogaming. The series takes its followers to various memorable locations within each game: the original pixelated plains of Hyrule, Majora’s Mask’s ominous land of Termina, Wind Waker’s vast and epic sea, and finally the series has taken to the skies… literally! Skyward Sword yet again presents an additional revamp to the classic series, not only introducing several additional gameplay mechanics (while still sticking to its roots), but also a control scheme that makes this Zelda title stand out from the rest. And yes, it is a Zelda title so without a doubt it’s bound to be amazing, but is Skyward Sword worth all those precious gameplay hours? The answer is a clear and resounding YES.

As with most Zelda games, the player is first introduced into the same scenario, and with each time a different setting. The player is thrown into a plethora of floating islands atop vast scapes of clouds into Link’s hometown, a quaint little village by the name of Skyloft. Unlike most Zelda titles, Zelda herself is no longer a princess, rather she is a childhood friend of Link, and this serves to be of great importance to the early story of the game. Suddenly you find yourself upon the back of a great crimson bird known as a Loftwing, racing others and exploring the great land above the clouds. And yet again, Link is accompanied by a trusty sidekick, this time a mysterious being who goes by the name of Fi. Soon after meeting Fi, this is where the story really begins…

Possibly the most noticeable feature of this new instalment of the Legend of Zelda series would have to be the graphical style. As with previous games such as Wind Waker and Phantom Hourglass, the game utilises a form of cell-shading that delivers crisp, colourful scenery and displays excellent emotion among Skyward Sword’s many quirky characters. However, unlike previous cell-shaded games, Skyward Sword makes the most of the Wii’s limited graphical capabilities by applying a sort of impressionistic painting artstyle to the environment and objects in the distance. This seems to work exceptionally well, as close-up objects seem to smoothly change into a palette of colourful artistic blurs. Although completely different from Twilight Princess’ semi-realism, Skyward Sword manages to create a unique graphical style unseen in any other game. While it may not sound too impressive, to really grasp the true beauty of this game you really need to play it for yourself.

The first game in the Legend of Zelda series to feature a fully orchestrated original soundtrack, Skyward Sword’s music is better than ever. Epic symphonic movements accompany Link’s journey through the vast sky, and every now and then you’ll notice subtle differences in the music depending on where you’re positioned in the environment. For example, in the Skyloft plaza the music changes with each stall you approach, and when in combat the music will change pace when an enemy is near. Although the game still lacks voice acting (which isn’t necessary for the series’ silent protagonist), characters still make amusing and emotive noises, especially the unique and ridiculously cute species called the ‘Kikwi’ that you meet early on in the game. Sound effects have also undergone an improvement, from the calming environmental noises of each area, noises that enemies make whilst wandering around, and especially the clashing and swinging of Link’s sword. Not only is the game a true feast for the eyes, but is also a true audial pleasure.

The standout feature of Skyward Sword is without a doubt its precision sword combat. Making excellent use of the Wii Motion+ feature, your every move is followed out on screen by the tip of Link’s sword, and this makes for some very interesting gaming mechanics, puzzles and enemies. Being the first Zelda game specifically designed for motion controls, many features of the game require precise movements: various items that Link picks up along the way, the ability to roll and walk along tightropes, and I’m sure there’s much more that I’m yet to discover! While these motion controls are excellent and deliver an overall enjoyable experience, often they can become cumbersome and frustrating. The use of the first person camera, slingshot and other items requires the pointer to be constantly re-centred, and this is quite a hassle especially during tense fights with enemies. Some lagging of the sword can also occur, and although not a serious problem, this can prove to be a slight hassle when fighting enemies or solving puzzles that require precise sword movement. Another new implementation is the addition of a stamina bar (or circle to be precise). This allows Link to perform dashes and various other moves, a lighter version of the parkour seen in the Assassin’s Creed series, giving Link the ability to access areas which would usually be out of his reach. However, the addition of a stamina bar means this along with health must be maintained.

For 25 years we have witnessed amazing level and puzzle design from the Legend of Zelda series, and Skyward Sword is no different. Although block pushing and sliding puzzles are seemingly a thing of the past, many puzzles within Skyward Sword’s vivid and characteristic environments are rather based around adventuring and experimenting with motion controls and items. Boss and enemy design are varied and extremely clever, with each enemy possessing a weak spot to exploit that often requires a certain sword movement to defeat. Each enemy and boss requires a different tactic to defeat, and it’s nice to see the way that the series has gone, steering away from the constant mashing of an attack button to defeat an enemy. Although waggling the Wiimote can help you in certain situations, if an enemy requires a certain movement waggling will soon see you out of hearts. And some may think that the introduction of 6 starting hearts may seem as if the game has been simplified for new players, but this is anything but, as you’ll need every single one of those hearts and more! This difficulty in combat is also assisted by the fact that you can now level up all your items by using items and parts dropped by certain enemies, which proves to be a great help, especially the creation of a more durable shield.

The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword is the end of an era, what many consider to be the Wii’s swan song, and what a better way to go? Skyward Sword offers a unique and revitalising experience to an already exceptional series, and will bring joy to both hardcore Zelda fans and casual gamers alike. Stunning and vibrant visuals, a beautiful orchestrated soundtrack, memorable locations, quirky characters, and innovative controls make this one of the best Zelda games Nintendo has ever produced, and undoubtedly one of the greatest games of this generation. Skyward Sword is a definite purchase and also a gaming investment for those of you who own a Wii even if you aren’t already a fan of this amazing series.

Visuals: 10/10

Sound: 10/10

Gameplay: 9.5/10 (due to some control issues)

Completion Length: 10/10 (what Nintendo are claiming to be the longest Zelda game of all time)

Overall Score: 98%

Doesn’t get much closer to gaming perfection than that! This has been Ben Qualbert Schuster, Legend of Zelda fanatic and dedicated Ninty fanboy.

 

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