Now for something completely different. Usually I avoid casual games, but Bandai Namco's We Ski for Wii got my attention for a couple of reasons. One, it's one of the rare Wii titles that features compatibility with the Wii Balance Board. Another is that its sequel, We Ski and Snowboard, was listed among the now-defunct Nintendo Gamer magazine's top games for Wii. I'd also enjoyed the skiing mini-games in Wii Fit, so was somewhat looking forward to more of the same.

I wasn't expecting much, but the game was definitely less active than Wii Fit. Although challenges similar to the skiing activities in that game are mixed in there somewhere, the focus seems to be more on just skiing around a large mountain (with 14 courses), taking in the virtual scenery, and exploring. There are different types of mini-games, but many of them are "fetch quest" like and don't require any thought or much skill. The skiing controls work well and the Balance Board compatibility is good, and the non-Balance Board controls seem polished as well. Performing tricks in the air requires memorizing button presses and motion controls, but for the most part they're pretty intuitive. Winning a mini-game nets you stars which unlock various costumes (who doesn't want to ski around a mountain in a bear suit?), and there are nice Bandai Namco specific references, like Pac-Man theme music occasionally playing over the in-game loudspeakers.

The graphics are very basic, and some of the challenges are obtuse. For example, along with tackling mini-games you can earn a grade by completing each of the game's courses (each of which features some unique feature, like jumps or more powder or a steeper gradient). You're graded on various metrics including time and speed, but also unnecessary metrics such as the number of turns. The exact requirements for fulfilling each of these is hidden and ends up requiring a lot of trial and error. Since you're navigating over these courses many times while fulfilling other objectives you'll eventually earn the top rank in them I suppose, but overall I got bored pretty quickly with the very basic gameplay. Apparently there are some hidden areas and extra events, such as one involving tracking down a Yeti, and the game also supports multiplayer where I think you can roam the mountain and compete in mini-games together.

The overall ambience is fairly relaxing and it does give the feel of being on the slopes, but as a gaming experience this was just too shallow for me. It was nice to dust off my Balance Board, but I'm skeptical that the sequel will have much more to offer. Maybe one day I'll check it out.

Ski over to these We Ski links:
- Apparently the game has sold over 1.2 million copies
- Entry at Metacritic. The review at the now-defunct 1up.com was one of the most complimentary.
- FAQ at GameFAQs

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I've been meaning to sit down with the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game on NES for a while, because although it gets generally panned these days, some of its sequels (particularly II, the first Game Boy game, and IV) do get regular praise. The game was pretty popular back in the day (Nintendo Power even made it its NES Game of the Year), and although I never caught "Turtle fever" I do remember watching some of the cartoons, seeing the first movie, playing the arcade game, and playing at least part of this, the NES game.

Unlike subsequent games which were classic beat 'em ups, the NES game was more of a straightforward action game. The majority of levels have you alternating between a top-down map of the city sewers and short side-scrolling action segments where you battle enemies and navigate platformer-like challenges.

I found myself disliking the game for many of the same reasons that it seems most people do: the Turtles are completely unbalanced (Donatello is everyone's favorite due to his long reach) and the platforming is very touchy: missing a jump can require you to backtrack a significant amount, leading to tedious trial and error. The enemies do have a fair amount of variety, although not a whole lot of personality, so combat ends up feeling like a chore. The locales (mostly sewers, insides of buildings, and rooftops) are also pretty mundane.

On the plus side, the infamous dam section (in level 2) wasn't as terrible as I expected. The sub-weapons are very useful (although they're pretty much what you'd expect), and in one level you get to drive around in the Turtles' van (apparently called "the Party Wagon") and run over baddies, which was fun. Overall I didn't hate the game, but by the time I'd struggled through and got to Area 4 I'd had enough of the tedium and couldn't bring myself to work my way through the rest of it.

Stab these Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles links:
- I hadn't realized it at the time, the Konami code can be used to up the number of continues to four instead of two
- Entry at Wikipedia
- Entry at sydlexia.com's "100 Best NES Games" list (they put it at #45)
- Entry at turtlepedia.wikia.com, which includes info on the single-appearance enemies that were included in the game
- Speed run from SGDQ 2013
- Low-scoring review of the Wii Virtual Console release (which I believe it's no longer available on), at NintendoLife
- Apparently the game was key to the NES's eventual success in Europe
- A look back, at the sadly defunct 1up.com

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Kung Fu for NES is noteworthy for several reasons. For one, it has the distinction of being among the elite group of original launch titles for the NES, a group that every child of the 80's (well, at least every video game obsessed child such as myself) surely regards with special nostalgia. Even amongst that set, the game was notable for being one of the few not developed by Nintendo. (It was developed by a company called Irem.) The game seems to also be regarded as one of the earliest examples of a beat 'em up, a now firmly established genre.

You can read about the game's mechanics in this review at negativeworld.org. I pretty much agree with everything that reviewer says. Basically, the game is colorful and has an admirable amount of personality and variety within its five short stages (including some bizarre enemies such as the purple-haired "grippers" who grab on to you and drain your life meter, and the midget-sized "Tom Toms" who somersault onto your head if you're not careful), but the last few boss fights (particularly the fourth one) seem too much based on luck. The game's controls feel a bit stiff by modern standards, and the jumping attacks are underused. It's satisfying to punch and kick your way through the levels and overall the game doesn't outstay its welcome, but it does all feel quite basic and very short.

All in all it was nice to revisit a game I barely remembered and that I haven't really played since I was a kid. It's always interesting to see the origins of what is now commonplace (in this case, a beat 'em up game), but the game didn't hold my attention half as well as classics of the same period.

Fight these Kung Fu links:
- Entry at Wikipedia. Apparently the original name of the arcade version was Kung-Fu Master
- Random blog review I came across
- Entry at strategywiki.org, including a comparison of home versions
- Looks like someone made a retro fan sequel of the game

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I think it's safe to say that most gamers were disappointed that Nintendo went the micro-transaction route with their Candy Crush Saga clone, Pokémon Shuffle. It would've been nice if Nintendo had not had to stoop to such low tactics, but these are hard times for casual video games, and although I'm skeptical that pandering by trying to emulate smartphone successes will pay off, I don't begrudge them too much for trying.

Anyway, I tried to go into the game with an open mind. I've played Shuffle's predecessor, Pokemon Trozei, and although the sprites are similar, the mechanics are quite different. Whereas that game was more about quick reactions as opposed to skill in setting up combos and chains, this game really is like a typical match 3 game like Candy Crush Saga and for the most part you're not timed. It's nice to not have to rush to make your next move, although the options of next moves are so limited that I got by just fine with making optimal best single moves and not having to bother trying to plan anything in advance.

The game does a pretty good job of balancing letting you play for free vs. encouraging you to buy credits. Credits recharge one every half hour for a maximum of 5, so for me most sessions lasted about 25 minutes: 5 free credits to play about 20 minutes, and then 10 minutes of waiting before playing another few minutes. The game periodically gives you bonus extra credits, and I never felt tempted to spend real world money, although I suppose I can see how people could get sucked into it if they were fixated on "catching 'em all" as many of the pokemon seem to have fairly low catch rates. As usual Genius Sonority did a pretty good job of incorporating Pokemon mechanics into the game, in particular by including mega evolutions, although the levelling-up system is somewhat underused since the pokemon you catch don't evolve and catching the next evolution of a pokemon is invariably more powerful than its pre-evolution.

Anyway, there are also special daily challenges and a group of bonus stages that are timed, and although I was somewhat addicted to it for about a week I'd pretty much had enough after getting about a third of the way through the main levels. It was an okay time-waster for my daily commute, especially since it's free and I didn't have any need to spend real money. I wasn't nearly as offended by it as Destructoid was, and in general felt somewhat positive about it, similar to NintendoLife, but as a gaming experience it was all pretty bland and forgettable despite the cute Pokemon trappings. Hopefully I'll be getting back to something a little more substantial in my next entry.

Shuffle these Pokémon Shuffle links:
- As usual Bulbapedia provides all the info you'd need
- Entry at Wikipedia

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I was looking for a shorter game to play, and so I thought I'd finally check out Tetris DX. The game didn't really have much to recommend it, except that it was a slightly enhanced version of the original black and white Game Boy classic, and, in fact, a launch title for the Game Boy color when it was released in the fall of 1998.

Most likely only video game history buffs like myself really care about the minutiae of the different versions of Tetris, of which I've reported on four thus far: the aforementioned Game Boy classic, Natsume's Tetris Plus, Nintendo's 8-bit nostlagia-fest, Tetris DS, and Hudson Soft's Tetris Party Live. Being an older game Tetris DX lacks some of the things that have become part of the modern standard, including more than one preview piece, a hold box (which lets you set aside a piece for later use), and shadows plus a hard drop (an outline of the current piece appears in the well below, and you can press up to make it fall immediately to the bottom), but going back to the basics didn't feel like it put a damper on the fun at all. Basically the core gameplay of Tetris is awesomely addictive pretty much any way it's presented.

This iteration lacks the Nintendo cameos that the original had and replaces the now-iconic music with three tracks that seem more early 90's sounding, and adds the ability to save profiles along with highest scores by name, and also three new modes: get the highest score possible in three minutes, clear 40 lines the fastest possible, and vs. CPU. The vs. CPU mode is fairly challenging, and there's an interesting twist where you can battle yourself. The way this works is that the CPU mimics your play style, which presumably is purely on a statistical basis as the game records what percentage of lines you cleared during the unlimited marathon mode were four at a time, three at a time, two at a time, or one at a time (which, incidentally, caps out at level 30). The game records these statistics for the three profiles stored on the cartridge, so you can have the CPU mimic the other two users as well.

All in all this was a fun old-school version of the great Tetris gameplay that probably everyone knows and loves. Anyone with any other version probably doesn't really need to check this one out, but it was nice to cross this very minor first-party Nintendo release off my list.

Color these Tetris DX links:
- Video of the different possible endings (involving rockets being launched into outer space) you can get in the marathon mode
- Video of what is presumably the best possible ending, which is a virtual fireworks show, you can get in the time attack mode (I must have gotten the worst possible ending because my fireworks didn't make shapes.)
- As a side note: I'm guessing the vs. CPU mode doesn't have any endings, as I beat the mode on level 9 without any acknowledgement from the game
- The game also includes three cute little animations if you let the start screen play (the FAQ says you have to press buttons to see them all, but they actually just cycle through)
- A note on GameFAQs says that you can increase the probability of the I piece appearing by moving them from side to side as they fall. Interesting, if it's true.
- Entry at nintendo.wikia.com
- Obscure details at tetris.wikia.com
- Entry at Wikipedia

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