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Despite the limitations to their size, Wii had its fair share of decent to great downloadable games (called "WiiWare"), and LostWinds was a game released relatively early in Wii's lifespan that received a lot of acclaim. I only just got around to playing through it, and although it's fairly short at just a few hours, it's a polished and enjoyable light platforming adventure game. The puzzles are very simple, most being of the "put boulder on switch" type, but the game oozes charm. The main character is cute and the supporting characters and enemies are well designed as well, but the environment and the atmosphere are what really makes the game memorable. The way the titular wind rustles the grass and the trees is incredibly effective at bringing the Peruvian-esque setting to life, and when combined with the motion controls that you use to draw paths for the wind to follow the game feels quite magical. Drawing paths with the Wii remote take a bit of getting used to, particularly when you're trying to make your character jump, but once mastered work fine.

There are only a handful of environments, and the game makes you travel back and forth through many of the same central areas in order to reach new paths, and there's only a single boss fight. Retries are only a minor setback, and with the music and pace it's quite a relaxing game overall. All in all this isn't a revolutionary game, but the acclaim is justified and I'm looking forward to trying out the sequel.

Relax with these LostWinds links:
- Official site
- The game and its sequel are also available on Steam
- Review at NintendoLife

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I was being a little coy in my last post, on Pikmin 2 when I said I'd be writing more about its successor, Pikmin 3, before too long, because (much to my surprise) I'd actually already finished it! It took me soooo long to get through Pikmin 2, so I was astounded that I got into Pikmin 3 so much that I literally completed it in three sittings. For a speed run that might not be a significant amount of time, but for my slow, casual first playthrough it was definitely noteworthy.

It's doubly surprising that I got through the game so quickly, because at its core the gameplay is pretty much identical to the previous two titles. You're still commanding an army of cute Pikmin to collect items (in this game, mostly fruit), fight enemies, and clear paths. The main difference is that in this game the spot-on pacing makes the game incredibly addictive. Nintendo has clearly learned from the two previous outings, and with this entry they strike pretty much a perfect balance between having too much time pressure as in Pikmin, and the complete lack of time restraints that was in Pikmin 2. In this game you have to make sure that you have enough fruit juice for your crew to survive to the next day, but once you get past the first few days it's very easy to stockpile a healthy reserve of juice and you can then play pretty much as slowly as you want.

The game also purposely restricts the types of Pikmin you can use, so much so that you only have two types (red and rock) for quite some time before the others are gradually introduced. The two new Pikmin types add some new wrinkles but don't really change things up much, but the simple "put key in lock" gameplay is still fun and the focus does become more on efficient time management. I ended up doing probably a little worse than average in terms of the number of in-game days it took me to get to the ending (and I didn't even bother collecting all the fruit), but of the three games, this is the one I can see myself much more likely to go back and dip into again. The game makes it easy to redo a day if you're not happy with how much you accomplished. The game also is much more casual-friendly in that boss enemies keep their damage level to the next day, so you don't have to worry about defeating them in one go.

The game also has tweaks, many of which are small, that just make everything feel so much better. Directing Pikmin is much easier since you can lock onto targets, thus preventing them from randomly jumping into a task that you don't want them to do. The whistle (which calls Pikmin to you) can be directed now, and so it's much easier to pick out which Pikmin you want to control. The game also introduces the ability to switch amongst three captains instead of the previous game's two, and although having three captains doesn't really introduce much new in the way of puzzles, this small change actually makes getting things done feel much easier as you can have a captain shuttle between two other captains that are supervising two groups of Pikmin. I tried out the gamepad touch controls (the game also supports the Wii remote pointer controls seen in the Wii-makes of the first two games), but I preferred regular button controls. Having the map easily accessible on the gamepad is extremely convenient, and you can also use it to direct paths for your captains to follow, which adds another layer to the gameplay.

Although the main campaign is shorter than the second game, the game has quite a few mission modes that can be played solo or co-op (which reward you with medals based on your performance), and a multiplayer vs. mode. Even more missions are available as paid DLC. The game also looks amazing, and is the first first-party title that I felt really wowed me with the level of visual polish and detail. All in all as a whole package I was impressed with this game, so much so that I just couldn't deny it a spot on my list of favorite games of all time. It's hard to imagine how Nintendo can top this, but I'm definitely looking forward to seeing what they come up with!

Tickle these Pikmin 3 links:
- Official site, includes wallpapers
- E3 2012 trailer
- E3 2013 trailer
- Funny video with Miyamoto and Bill from E3 2013
- Interview with Miyamoto about the game, at Kotaku
- Review at NintendoLife
- Entry on Miiverse
- Entry at pikmin.wikia.com
- Entry on Wikipedia

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It's hard to believe that it's been almost ten years since I finished the first Pikmin game. I've actually been playing the sequel, Pikmin 2, off and on (mostly off) for what seems like forever (literally years). The gameplay is pretty much the same as the first, so you'd think that I would have gotten through it earlier than now. My main problem was that the first game had a rigid limit as to how many in-game days you could take to finish, whereas the sequel is completely open ended. Without any compelling goals in the sequel, I just didn't have any motivation to finish collecting the minimum amount of treasure required to "beat" the game and get to the credits, even though the gameplay was still generally enjoyable.

The sequel tweaks the structure of the original, and so instead of just exploring different outdoor areas, you also have a whole slew of caves to find and dive deep into. Caves do provide a nice change of pace, but there's really not a whole lot to them. There's no incentive or disadvantage to completing the multi-floor caves in one trip, so there's not much pressure. Again, this could be a good thing in general, but I just found that it made me not care much about being careful and planning ahead, and thus not care much about finishing the game.

The game is as cute as the first one, or even a little more so, and having a second character to control does provide some variety in terms of some simple puzzles and opportunities to be more efficient in accomplishing the various tasks the game presents. The game's mechanics are still very much just the "put key in lock" variety (i.e. use fire Pikmin on fire-breathing enemies, etc., etc.), but the challenge comes in trying to minimize the amount of game time spent, I suppose. As it was I just meandered through the game, admired the scenery, and didn't bother spending too much brainpower on it. Still a fun game, and I appreciated the generally relaxing ambience and all the humor in the descriptions of the treasures collected, but I definitely preferred the first one overall. I've actually already checked out Pikmin 3, so more on that before too long.

Pick up these Pikmin 2 links:
- Entry at pikmin.wikia.com
- Entertaining comic and Awkward Zombie
- Entry on Wikipedia
- Entry on Metacritic

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I'm on a bit of a roll getting through games I've had on my list for aaaaages, and so I used my momentum to start Castlevania II: Simon's Quest. This is definitely one of those games that I had vague recollections of playing when I was a kid, but really didn't remember anything about it, other than that the game is infamous for being confusing and hard to get through without a guide. This turned out to be pretty much completely true as a little more than halfway through the game I did have to resort to a FAQ to figure out what the heck "Hit Deborah Cliff with your head to make a hole" was supposed to mean and what I was supposed to do with the red crystal (and it still looks like no one really knows what "A flame flickers inside the ring of fire" is supposed to mean either!). The game is maddening not only because the majority of "clues" don't make much sense or are otherwise completely useless, but that all the people refer to place names and town names, but nowhere do the towns actually directly tell you what their names are! Gah!

My list of grievances definitely goes on. There are five dungeon-like mansions, but they're all pretty boring and same-y. There are only two lame boss fights, not counting the lame ending fight, and the locales connecting the towns and mansions are also reused a lot. The day/night system is novel, especially for its time, but more often than not is a pain since you just end up wasting time waiting for it to turn back to day so you can actually get stuff accomplished in the various towns. Similarly, the RPG elements are unique, but feel woefully underdeveloped. There are some fun subweapons (but no real need to use them), and there's a decent amount of enemy variety. The music is also pretty good, and I definitely appreciated how generous the game is in terms of restarting you right where you left off when you get a game over and giving an unlimited number of continues.

This may have been a game that was enjoyable for its time, but I don't see how anyone playing it now could find it anything but annoying. I'm glad I've finally been able to cross this game off my list, and that I don't ever have to play it again. I've still barely made a dent in the Castlevania series overall, though, so hopefully I'll be able to get around to another one or two before the end of the year.

Stake these Castlevania II: Simon's Quest links:
- Thorough page at castlevaniacrypt.com, that includes an annotated map, wallpapers, and even a scene creator
- Video playthrough by Coyote12101
- Entry on Miiverse
- NintendoLife has three reviews of the game (and counting!) covering its various rereleases
- Details on the game's three endings
- Entertaining look back at the game at Destructoid
- Old Howard & Nester comic from Nintendo Power about the game
- Someone's hacked the game to replace all the text with text that is actually useful
- Entry on Wikipedia
- An entertaining look at the novelization of the game. I actually kind of remember seeing these books when I was a kid. This quote is particularly entertaining: "'I will drink your spirit like cherry pop!' said the count, flapping his cape and showing his fangs." Ha ha.

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I realized it had been ages since I'd played an FPS, so I dusted off my original Xbox which I've barely touched and played one of my first proper Xbox games, the famous Halo: Combat Evolved. The game is widely regarded as one of, if not the best Xbox games of all time, and sold millions of copies. I knew next to nothing about Halo in general or this specific game, and so I went in pretty much blind.

As with Goldeneye 007, I was left assuming the main draw to the game must have been the multiplayer (GamesRadar seemed to think so), or maybe it was just that people were hyped for Xbox and looking for a game to justify their purchase of it. Whereas Goldeneye's single-player mode was just frustrating, I found Halo's single-player mode to just be boring. Maybe the reason the game received so many accolades was that it was another leap forward for FPSes on consoles, but since I'd already played Half-Life on PC there was little new for me to be impressed by. The graphics were fine for their time, but not stunning. The two guns + grenades setup works well, but the weapons themselves didn't feel that unique, although I appreciated that each had its own identity. I'm also not completely sold on the shield mechanic, since it's too easy to just run away and recharge since enemies rarely chase you down (at least on the normal difficulty level).

The story is standard space fare and so I found it pretty dull, and the settings were decidedly ho-hum. I'd expected the space setting to look really exotic whereas it just looked like Earth, and the same enemies get recycled over and over again. Driving the main vehicle took some getting used to but ended up working pretty well, but driving in general feels more like a slight diversion than something really core to the experience.

I don't know when I'll get the chance to try out the multiplayer, but for now I'm happy that I got to try out Halo firsthand. I'm not a big fan of FPSes and clearly not the game's target audience, but I'm definitely glad that I've gotten to a point in my life where I don't feel I have to force myself to plod through to the end of games like this.

Shoot down these Halo: Combat Evolved links:
- FAQ at IGN
- Entry on Metacritic

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