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Another 3DS game, and just in time for Halloween. The original Luigi's Mansion for GameCube was among the first GameCube games I played. In many ways a game with Luigi in the starring role was a dream come true, and although I enjoyed the game overall, it took me a while to getting around to finishing it and it didn't really wow me.

Fast forward to ten years later, and history repeats itself. Luigi's starring roles are still few and far between, so I was looking forward to seeing how Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon for 3DS, the sequel to Luigi's Mansion, developed the gameplay from the original. The game does add some new elements and includes way more collectibles to track down, secrets to uncover, and medals to earn. Unfortunately, a lot of those secrets end up being the "rub up against every wall a la Doom" variety. In this case, it's scan every nook and cranny with the scan mode of the Poltergust, which I found gets pretty dull pretty quickly. There are several mansions to explore this time around, although they're not wildly different. There are a number of gems to collect, but the game doesn't make it clear which gems can be collected in which missions. Similarly, the game doesn't make it clear what the requirements for earning the gold medals for each stage are. I found the combat and puzzles to generally be pretty simple and mindless as well.

Those are a lot of negatives, and it took me a long time to get through it as I had to keep setting it aside and picking it up again. The game looks great, though, and is very charming and atmospheric. Luigi has a lot of comedic physicality, including a lot of frightened reactions and slapstick humor. The game also has a multiplayer mode, which can be played over Wi-Fi. I tried it out but it seemed pretty throwaway so I didn't end up spending that much time on it.

Apparently I'm in a minority in my reaction to the game, as the game was released to rave reviews. I'm still a big fan of the man in green and think Nintendo's Year of Luigi was one of the coolest things they've ever done, but I'm still hoping that Luigi will get more chances to shine beyond this side series.

Discover these Luigi's Mansion: Dark Moon links:
- Official NA site. The official UK site includes a PDF of the instruction manual.
- E3 2011 trailer
- E3 2012 trailer
- In-depth Nintendo Direct look at the game with Miyamoto. The standalone version of the segment includes a funny bit with Iwata (R.I.P.) and Miyamoto.
- Page on Miiverse
- Iwata Asks feature
- Review at NintendoLife
- Developer interview at NintendoLife
- Developer interview at IGN

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I'm a fan of puzzle games in general, and I'd heard of how hugely popular Puzzle & Dragons was in its native Japan even before Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition for 3DS was released in the US. When it was announced I did try out the iOS version, but I got bored with it very quickly. I like the core gameplay mechanics of the series in general (yet another variation of match three mechanics, although in this case you can drag a piece around the board and as a result cause many pieces to change places in just one turn), but the iOS version felt barebones to me. There are cute little monsters you can collect and all that, but the "dungeons" aren't evocative at all and the progression of levelling up and evolving monsters felt slow. There's a mechanic where you can get strangers online to lend you helper characters you can use, but this seemed to destroy any balance in the game as the helper characters were vastly overpowered for people like me who were just starting out. The game was a free-to-play game, but I didn't play it enough to get a sense of if those mechanics were balanced or not, but it seemed palatable.

I wasn't expecting much from Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition, but the game did keep that obsessive switch in my brain flipped for quite a while. Having the familiar Mario characters and setting helped draw me in, and unlocking all the alternate paths (which doesn't seem to actually reward you with anything worthwhile), capturing enemies and then using them on your team, planning our your team for each specific level, and evolving your allies was pretty fun... up to a point. The game gets pretty difficult pretty quickly, but as with games like in the Pokemon series, you can grind while trying to catch characters you don't have yet, so it's not too boring. The bigger problem for me, though, is that unlike in Pokemon, the evolutions of the characters you end up working hard to achieve end up being distinctly underwhelming. Many of them are just predictable variations (e.g. a Koopa Troopa can evolve into a Dry Bones), and there are a lot of really boring ones where it's just a pair of enemies (e.g. a Blooper can evolve into a Koopa Troopa riding a Blooper). Similarly, the increase in special attacks are generally the predictable "+20 attack increases to +40" variety. The story is flimsy, and the New Super Mario Bros. setting is reproduced rather too slavishly.

The game also features a minor diversion in the form of score attack modes, with or without set teams. Attempting the score attack mode without a fully levelled up team is pointless, though, so I didn't bother looking into that much. The StreetPass features are similar to the original in that you gain helper characters, but since levelling is so slow I found that all the people I StreetPassed who had the game weren't any higher than I was anyway.

One of the selling points to the game is that it comes with another entirely different game, Puzzle & Dragons Z, on the same cartridge. P&DZ apparently changes up the regular mechanics more than the SMB Edition, and I spent a bit of time trying it out. The story progresses Pokemon style, where you take on the role of a plucky youngster who saves the world by battling with his collection of critters. The aesthetic is completely in line with all the rest of its breed, and the story is equally banal and unsurprising. I doubt I'll be pouring significant amounts of time into it anytime soon, though.

I enjoyed immersing myself in P&D: SMB Edition, and I'm not too disappointed that my obsession was relatively short-lived as grinding could end up being a major time suck. The game unlocks an even harder mode once you rescue Peach and all the bosses become recruitable, but I think it's going to be a long time before I feel inclined to pick this one up again.

Puzzle over these Puzzle & Dragons: Super Mario Bros. Edition links:
- Official site
- A lot of useful info at mariowiki.com, including a page that details the earliest stage you can recruit certain characters and a complete listing of the special item drops
- Video overview of the game on Nintendo Minute
- Tips for both games at pocketgamer.co.uk
- List of unlockables at GameFAQs

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Almost exactly as I finally finished the last major feat of the previous batch of StreetPass Mii Plaza games (catching the last fish of the last fishing hole), Nintendo had to go and release five more! Ah, well. I thought now would be a good time to take a look back at those two games and the VIP features.

First off, I've been a big fan of the StreetPass games in general, and the first set of four paid DLC games had a good amount of variety, with some slower, more deliberate games and some faster, more mindless ones. These two newer ones are fairly complementary as well, with the zombie game falling into the former category and the fishing game falling into the latter.

The fishing game, Ultimate Angler, has a similar feel as the haunted manor game (not surprising since they were both developed by Prope), and here the shirt color of the Miis you pass provide you with a range of types of bait that you combine to try to attract fish you catch at various fishing locations. Miis from different regions open up three special islands, and Miis from different countries let you visit another exclusive location. The game is pretty mindless, but it is fun to work your way through all the fishing locations and catch all the fish. The "boss" and other special fish often take several times through to wear down their stamina enough to catch them, but otherwise things move along pretty steadily. I still have a few fish to catch, including some special ones that are only "spotted" when you StreetPass someone who also has the fishing game, but one of the last challenges is to get the largest size fish of every breed (they're ranked from A+ to E), which seems extremely pointless.

The zombie game, Battleground Z, is extremely similar to Mii Force, the shoot 'em up, which also shouldn't be surprising since they were both developed by Good-Feel. Instead of shirt color as with Mii Force, here the Miis' hobbies determine their weapon types. Battleground Z is a fairly typical beat 'em up, and for the majority of the main mode things progress pretty steadily.The problem, though, and it's a significant one, is that collecting all the medals (four possible for each stage), gets to be a big drag. There are time challenges, etc., but the main problem is the "find rare zombies" challenges, which require you use a specific weapon (usually its special attack, which is limited) in a particular unspecified place in the stage. I've replayed some stages dozens of times with no luck finding the rare zombie, and I'm close to having to resort to using a FAQ. Ugh!

The VIP features are pretty pointless, but completist that I am I bought them anyway. The new speech bubbles for your Mii greetings are fun, although a lot of the new hats are just costume versions of previous hats (i.e. include clothes as well as a hat). The birthday collection feature is a quick and completely passive addition, and I'm only now just getting to the point where I'm getting close to filling in each month of the calendar. It's fluffy, but for an OCD, completist type like me it's not a bad addition. Basically if you got a kick out of slowly filling in the map of your region with Miis, you'll probably like the birthday feature as it's basically the same thing.

It's hard to believe that StreetPass Mii is my second-highest played 3DS game and that I've clocked 200 (!!!) hours. I'm glad that I was able to make all that progress without having to resort to any cheats whatsoever, although I'm still waiting for my final US state StreetPass (Arkansas, in case anyone's curious). The amount of StreetPasses I've gotten in the wild seems to have slowed, but it's nice to have a use for Play Coins, and I still carry my 3DS everywhere and get psyched whenever I see that little green StreetPass light. I've started to dip into the next batch of games, and although I may finally be nearing StreetPass fatigue, I don't doubt that the total hours I spend playing these games will keep increasing for a good while yet.

Pass along these StreetPass Mii Plaza Games links:
- Official site
- Info on the features added in that update on nintendo.wikia.com, which also includes pages on each game
- Long analysis of the novelty of the StreetPass games by Totilo at Kotaku

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Soul Calibur II for GameCube is another one of those games that I've had hanging over my head for ages, but I finally sat down and give it a whirl recently. I'm not a huge fan of fighters in general, but the game regularly gets included in the list of greatest GameCube games of all time. I'd liked its predecessor, SoulCalibur for Dreamcast, pretty well, but after spending some time trying out the different characters and modes of this game I basically came to the same conclusion that IGN had at the time. They said:

    The problem (if that's what you want to call it) is that Soul Calibur on Dreamcast was, at the time of its release, an almost monumental achievement and breakthrough in fighting games. Soul Calibur II is essentially more of the same great stuff that made its predecessor the genre-defining game that it was, but in the context of the present day and the corresponding competition, the impact of such a game has been greatly reduced.

My main problem with SoulCalibur II is that it introduces only a handful of new characters, but they're all based on characters from the previous game. In other words, for a casual player like me it feels like essentially the same game as the previous game which was released three years earlier. I ended up spending the bulk of my time in the story mode, although it too is essentially the same as in the previous game. In this mode you go through different battles (justified by an extremely thin story), but the draw is that they have different setups and requirements, e.g. you can only use throws, or falling to the ground causes a lot of damage. The graphics don't even look that noticeably different from the Dreamcast game.

Fortunately, the GameCube version has a big addition which saved it and made it much more worthwhile to me, which is that it includes Link from the Zelda series, and who needs no introduction. Each of the three versions for the three major systems of the time got a version exclusive character, and Link was easily the best of the three. I ended up spending most of my time with him, and he did a pretty good job of keeping my interest. His unique ranged attacks (boomerang, bombs, and arrows) are are fairly useless because they're slow, but it was a lot of fun to see his iconic sword moves, such as the spin attack and the downward thrust. I barely made any inroads in learning all of his combos, but it was still fun to see Link in one of his best cameos to date.

Since this was the "sole" mainline entry in the SoulCalibur series to appear on a Nintendo platform, I don't feel much compelled to seek out further entries (thankfully). I'm still not that into fighting games, but there are definitely plenty more series I need to at least try out. Hopefully I'll get around to at least one more of those before the end of the year. Stay tuned!

Link to these Soul Calibur II links:
- A good look back at the game at 101 Video Games, including a link to a video with some footage of Link gameplay
- Random video with more Link footage
- Entry at Metacritic
- Entry at Wikipedia
- FAQ at GameFAQs

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The Mario vs. Donkey Kong seems to just keeping going... and going... and going... I don't know if they keep churning them out just to keep the Nintendo Software Technology (NST) group busy, or if every entry actually sells well. Anyway, I felt like I was getting behind, so I tackled the next entry in the series in an attempt to catch up a bit. The next entry for me was Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem!, the second of the DS releases. The first DS release, March of the Minis, introduced a lot of gadgets, but you had to control the minis individually, which I found to be overly fussy. I preferred the DSiWare follow-up, Minis March Again, which is more Lemmings-like in that the minis keep marching forward until they hit a wall in which case they turn and move in the opposite direction.

Mini-Land Mayhem feels like a combination of the previous two games in that it has all the gadgets of March of the Minis, but the automatic movement of the minis as in Minis March Again. It doesn't end up feeling all that different from its immediate predecessor, but they did finally change the boss fights from the last two games. Here the boss fights are more like the regular stages, but more tedious as you have to play them perfectly in order to get the highest medal, and they drag on longer than regular stages. As with the previous games it's pretty easy and mindless to get to the end of every stage, but collecting everything and getting the highest medals will take a bit more effort. The simple graphics are pretty much identical to the previous two games, and as before there are some mildly diverting mini-games. A hard mode unlocks once you beat the main game, although I didn't have much interest in continuing. The game also includes a level editor, although those features are severely hampered now that the game no longer supports its online features.

At this rate I seriously doubt that any of the remaining games in the series are going to change my overall impression of the series. At least the next entry, Mario and Donkey Kong: Minis on the Move, changes up the formula. We'll have to see if that makes things any more interesting, although I'm pretty skeptical.

March with these Mario vs. Donkey Kong: Mini-Land Mayhem! links:
- Review at NintendoLife
- Entry at mariowiki.com
- List of unlockables at GameFAQs

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