I know I just said something similar in my last post, but I can't believe it's already been almost six and a half years since I've picked up a Contra game. I ended up skipping ahead and trying out Contra Rebirth, which was part of a trio of Konami releases on WiiWare that revisited classic franchises. All three games seem to have gotten a positive reception, and Contra Rebirth definitely feels like a great homage to a classic series.

Contra Rebirth has all the great over-the-top run 'n gun action of the original games, and Contra super fans will probably recognize more of the references to previous games than I did. There are plenty of boss fights, and the first boss of the first game has another cameo in this game. Being able to hang from bars and climb up walls returns from previous games, and the game features a total of four playable characters (all play identically and two are unlockable) that will also be familiar to fans of the series.

I was thrown off by the fact you can't run and gun at the same time, although this isn't the first time a Contra game has gone with that design. There's no need for the Konami code since you can adjust the number of lives in the settings, and you get unlimited continues. The game only includes five stages, but on the normal difficulty it's still a decent challenge. There are three difficulty levels to start with, and beating the hard mode unlocks "nightmare" mode, which has an interesting mechanic. According to GameFAQs, in this mode "any enemy that you destroy will shoot a blue ring projectile in your direction, and the more enemies you kill, the more blue rings will spread all across the screen, which will make it harder to avoid the attacks."

WiiWare had some great games, and Contra Rebirth is definitely one of them, so much so that I would rank it at the top of my list of favorite WiiWare games. Contra games are fun in general and there's nothing like mowing down hordes of enemies with the spread gun with a buddy fighting alongside you. Of the Contra games I've played, Contra Rebirth is one of the best. It's colorful, full of action and fun, and has a nice set of options (and unlimited continues!).

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Yowzers, has it really been eight years since I last played a Wario platformer? I'd played through the previous Wario games at a pretty good pace (the previously most recent of which was Wario Land 4 on GBA), but it's taken me this long to finally finish the next Wario game, Wario World for GameCube. I have some affection for the character, but I suppose part of the problem is that the game was developed by Treasure rather than Nintendo. As a result, the game lacks the typical sunny and cartoony Nintendo aesthetic and opts for weirdness and creepiness instead, which I found off-putting (although I like Treasure as a developer in general).

3-D platformers don't really appeal to me that much in general since I didn't grow up with them. They also tend to be big collectathons, and although Wario World isn't nearly as bad as most, you'll definitely need to look in every nook and cranny to find every collectible. I've gotten to enjoy this type of exploration more over the years, and although each level feels distinct, the game is a bit repetitive. The game consists of several types of gameplay. There's the typical large-level exploration you'd expect with a game like this, and in these sections the focus is on exploring and brawling rather than platforming. Then there are small puzzle rooms that require a combination of brains and dexterity in order to collect the reward at the end of them. There are also self-contained platforming sections over a bottomless pit, very reminiscent of Super Mario Sunshine in general, although in this game you're given unlimited chances to get to the end. These platforming challenges suffer from all the problems of most 3-D platformers, namely, a manual camera that can be frustrating at times, and difficulty in judging distance and mastering the game's physics.

The exploration sections are pretty fun, except there's very little enemy variety. Basically there are three types of enemies in the whole game, and the levels just re-skin them with minor tweaks to their behavior. The other big complaint I have about these sections is that instead of losing a life when you fall into a pit, you're forced to go to an area (different for every level) where you have to avoid enemies and hit open boxes until you find the random one that has the spring that propels you back to the regular stage. These sections are a huge bore, and really put the brakes on any momentum in exploring. The puzzle rooms are generally fun, but the platforming sections can get a bit tedious, especially since in this game the platforming is often based on mastering the mechanics of the game's physics rather than just requiring strategy and good timing. I find 3-D platforming to not be nearly as immediately gratifying as 2-D platforming in general anyway, and this game doesn't change my opinion of that.

The locales are a bit more varied than a lot of other similar games, and there are some nice twists in the levels, such as one that has areas where you can't see yourself and have to rely on a mirror's reflection instead. The final stage, a large and elaborate pyramid that you have to climb up the exterior of, was also a highlight, although the platforming sections in that level in particular were tedious and frustrating. As with other Treasure games there are plenty of boss and mid-boss fights, but although they're generally enjoyable, I wouldn't say they're particularly brilliant in this game.

Overall I enjoyed Wario World, so much so that I actually completed it 100%. There were some really tedious and frustrating moments, however, and the lack of enemy variety really hurts the game. The game doesn't connect to the Mario or Wario games at all, and it had been a game that didn't feature Wario it might have left a slightly better impression. As it is I'm glad that I'm finally finished with it and can get back to a more traditional 2-D Wario platforming experience.

Platform in 3-D with these Wario World links:
- Entry at mariowiki.com
- Review at NintendoLife
- Video of all the endings
- Entry on Metacritic
- Entry on Wikipedia
- Guide at IGN
-
GameXplain video about an Easter egg about the pause screen

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I'm probably one of the few people who played and enjoyed ThruSpace, a downloadable title on Wii. The game is a unique puzzle game where you're given Tetris-like shapes that zoom down corridors and you're tasked with spinning them to fit through holes in walls in your path. Sounds wacky and very Japanese, but the mechanics were fun and the sleek post-Lumines aesthetic worked well. Although it's pretty easy to get through levels just by fitting the piece through the holes, the real fun comes from moving and rotating the piece multiple times to cover the entire hole, earning a "trick" that nets you many more points and a multiplier, if you can manage to sustain it.

I've been looking forward to playing its sequel, Ketzal’s Corridors (aka SpeedThru: Potzol’s Puzzle) on 3DS ever since I finished ThruSpace, but have only gotten around to it now. At its core Ketzal’s Corridors is pretty much the same game as ThruSpace, but with many notable enhancements. The most obvious one is that the game trades in the sleek and minimalistic design of the original for a cool Aztec-inspired design instead. There's a minimal story involving a good and a bad deity yadda yadda, but the trappings actually help improve the gameplay because rather than each game piece being made up of simple blocks, instead they've shaped them to look like animals. This should help newbies more quickly get a handle on how the three game pieces in the main game rotate, although this is most apparent for the three unlockable larger game pieces which go a step further and are made up of three colors rather than just one.

The stereoscopic 3D of the 3DS is ideal for this game, and enhances the gameplay. There are new modes, including multiplayer modes, one of which you can play with two people on the same 3DS (one person using the left side of the controls and the other person using the right side). The scoring system is much improved in that tricks are scored in a more logical way. The game is structured so that each of the three main pieces is featured on three maps. The maps have the same layout, and there are a variety of regular stages where you have to get through a set number of walls (some of which have moving hazards you'll have to avoid that will slow you down if you bump into them), as well as endless modes, modes where you're just required to rotate the shapes without steering, and stages that feature larger, more unusually shaped pieces. Each stage has requirements for earning bronze, silver, and gold medals, and on top of that in the regular stages you can also earn extra recognition for obtaining every heart and not missing any tricks (i.e. getting a full combo).

I'm happy to be able to report that Ketzal’s Corridors really fulfills the promise of its predecessor and provides almost everything you'd want from a sequel. The game has a new coat of paint, new modes, new challenges, and tons of replayability in the form of medals to earn. The game does have one downside compared to the original, though, which is that since the 3DS has less buttons than the Wii controller you can only rotate right and not left. Even aside from this, the game just misses making it to my favorite games of all time list. Much as I enjoyed it, it's not quite as epic a puzzler as the best of them, but I'll definitely be trying for more gold medals and I'm definitely hoping that there are more sequels to further explore the fun core gameplay.

Speed through these Ketzal’s Corridors links:
- Launch trailer
- Entry on Metacritic
- Review at NintendoLife
- Entry on Wikipedia

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I recently posted about the Power Pros Podcast, which I'm a fan of, and the main guy regularly gushes about the Shantae games. I'd had mixed feelings about the original game on Game Boy Color when I'd played it a few years ago, as I'd enjoyed it but had found a number of parts of it to be pretty rough, including the amount of backtracking due to a clunky warp system. I've been overdue for checking out the next game in the series, but Power Pros helped give me the necessary push.

Shantae: Risky's Revenge was originally released on DSi, but is now available on a host of platforms, including Steam, 3DS, and Wii U. The later releases were given a "Director's Cut" which added warp points and a hard mode after you beat the main game. I'm happy to say that the second game does succeed in fulfilling the promise of the first and is better in pretty much every way. As you'd expect from WayForward, the pixel graphics are top notch, and the game is extremely polished throughout. The controls are great, and the environments are distinct.

The game starts off with the most confusing areas at the beginning, which is a town and a forest that you navigate by jumping to the background or foreground, like in the Virtual Boy Wario Land game and Guardian Heroes on Sega Saturn. For the most part progression through the rest of the game is pretty straightforward, although the map does take a bit of getting used to. Oddly enough, Risky's Revenge is more limited in scope than the original, but this is no doubt due to the size limitations of downloadable DSi titles. The gameplay is pretty much the same as the first game, but everything is more focused and polished. There are only a few dungeons, but they're much more interesting and memorable. There are only three transformations (only one of which is new), but they're still a lot of fun. Special weapon items use up a magic gauge instead of being expendable as in the first game, so they're more usable and more fun. The special weapons definitely help, as the game is more challenging than you'd expect just based on its visuals. I don't know about the original version of the game, but the warp system in this Director's Cut version works perfectly well, and fixes the travel-related tediousness of the first game.

The colorful cast and entertaining story and main character tie everything together, and although I was a bit skeptical even after I'd gotten pretty far into the game, in the end I was won over by Shantae and company and would have to rank this as one of the best games I've played in a while. I'm looking forward to playing the next two games in the series, so much so that I went ahead and pre-ordered the deluxe version of the latest game, Shantae: Half-Genie Hero for Nintendo Switch. It comes with the three DLC, which should be a fun to check out as well.

More hair-whipping hijinks with these Shantae: Risky's Revenge - Director's Cut links:
- As before, the Shantae wikia is a great resource
- Review at NintendoLife
- Entry on Steam

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I've fallen a bit behind on posting, and the reason is pretty clear: I've been playing Xenoblade Chronicles. The game is massive. I've been playing the Wii version, which was released in North America in 2012 after a big fan campaign, and it was subsequently released on New Nintendo 3DS a few years ago.

I'm usually not the biggest RPG player, but I've been getting more into them recently. Maybe the slower pace is becoming more appealing in my advanced years, or maybe it's just that they provide a marked contrast to the quick and easy pick up 'n play mechanics of the majority of smartphone games. Xenoblade Chronicles is definitely the complete opposite, and is ginormous, with hours upon hours of gameplay just in the main story mode, and double or even triple that if you get into the sidequests. With RPGs I almost always have to force myself to slog through to the end, and nowadays with more limited free time I just stop when I feel like I've seen everything there is to see and can't bring myself to traipse through yet another dungeon with more random battles. This usually translates to about 20 to 30 hours into a game, and is even true for RPGs with engaging characters and high production values, like Bravely Default, which I played earlier this year.

So it came as a surprise to me that I enjoyed Xenoblade Chronicles as much as I did. The game's Executive Director, Tetsuya Takahashi is clearly a kindred spirit of Masahiro Sakurai, the director of the Smash Bros. games, in that they both clearly eschew the "less is more" design philosophy and instead stuff their games with so much content that they're overflowing. Xenoblade Chronicles doesn't just have a large cast of playable characters (several with unique battle mechanics) and a huge number of locations and a lengthy story, but it has a huge number of sidequests and NPCs, enemy drops, and unique-looking weapons and armor (all of which are shown on your characters and in cut scenes). The sheer number of weapons and armor would be one thing, but having them visually change your character's appearance is no mean feat. Similarly, the huge number of sidequests would be impressive enough, but some are mutually exclusive or lead to alternate sidequests and most also have unique dialogue if you happen to have a certain member in your party at the time you take it on. Also, the large cast of NPCs is impressive, but most of them have multi-stage quests that develop their relationships with other NPCs. The relationships are tracked in the "affinity chart", which is somewhat like the Bomber's notebook from Majora's Mask but times 100. These relationships help bring the world to life, and help elevate what are otherwise fairly standard MMORPG-like quests.

I enjoyed the vastness of the game and the characters, although the story didn't particularly grab me. Many of the locales are the usual environments, e.g. plains, jungle, cave, etc., but there were enough more unique ones to keep me engaged. Being a Fire Emblem nut, I enjoyed tracking down the "heart-to-hearts", which are the game's version of support conversations between playable characters that are accessible after the pair reaches a certain level of friendship. The plot develops at a pretty good pace, so much so that I was still surprised by the game some 50 hours into it. I would be more inclined to finish the game if I weren't such a completist, as the game includes timed quests which expire after a certain point in the game. I've gotten to a point where a lot of those quests are going to become unavailable, which means I would have to stop and pour a fair amount of time into sidequests, so rather than continue I'm going to put the game on hold and move on to the sequels. Sidequests in general tend to be overly tedious as they often involve rare enemy drops (a monsterpedia would definitely have helped), or finding some NPC who you probably only talked to once. For someone who avoids consulting FAQs this is a big pain, although less OCD people will have less of a problem.

Xenoblade Chronicles does suffer visually from being on the technically limited Wii and I wasn't a huge fan of the character art style, but from what I've experienced of the follow-up on Wii U it's clear that the developers made great use of the Wii U's increased capabilities. I'd played Monolith Soft's previous RPG Baten Kaitos on GameCube and a lot of the aesthetics of Xenoblade Chronicles reminded me of that game. This isn't a bad thing, but the later Xenoblade games seem to have a more unique look to them.

Much as I enjoyed my time with Xenoblade Chronicles, it didn't quite make it to my list of greatest games of all time. It's the biggest RPGs I've ever played, and if ever a game deserved the description "epic", Xenoblade Chronicles is one. I liked it more than Breath of the Wild, a similarly vast and open adventure game, and I had more than a few moments where I was wowed, but I didn't find myself quite loving it enough to give it the gold star. I can see why it makes other people's greatest games of all time lists, though, as it's huge, has a fun battle system, and is stuffed with secrets and details and hours and hours of gameplay. Still, I've definitely become a Xenoblade fan, and I'm looking forward to delving deeper into the game's follow-up on Wii U.

Check out these epic Xenoblade Chronicles links:
- The wiki (xenoblade.wikia.com) is a fantastic resource, although, of course, be wary of spoilers
- Official trailer
- Entry on Wikipedia
- Review at NintendoLife
- Nice set of live performances of the game's music posted at the time of the New 3DS version's release
- A great-looking artbook for the game was released in Japan, and a video of someone flipping through it can be found here.
- The game was released in a special edition that also included a 20-page promotional art book, some scans of which can be found on Siliconera here.

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