Condemn O.R. Condone – Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze (Wii U)

Donkey Kong Country returned on the Wii a few years ago with the aptly named game Donkey Kong Country Returns, which acted as a welcome refresher to the classic games of the series that came out for the Super Nintendo in the mid 1990’s. It was a return to the side-scrolling mayhem with solid level design, memorable boss fights and a slew of collectibles for players to try and discover. Now, Donkey Kong Country is returning (again) in the form of Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze. The results? Improvement in every single area possible.

The thing that immediately grabs your attention is the game’s beautiful graphics. As we witness the opening cutscene in which Donkey Kong’s island is frozen by the Snowmads, everything is beautifully rendered in glorious HD. Donkey Kong’s hair looks so real for goodness sakes, and all of the tropical and vibrant elements that this game’s setting naturally has makes everything stand out even more. There is no denying that this game looks gorgeous, and really showcases what the Wii U is capable of with a decent developer and full HD-capabilities.

This all goes into the game’s level design. If you’re a fan of the series, you know that you spend the majority of the game making your way through side-scrolling levels in which you must avoid perilous enemies and obstacles. In this game, the level design has been ramped up A LOT, as many of the levels in this game are masterfully-crafted. Throughout the game’s six worlds (and 1 secret world) you are constantly treated to levels that are extremely challenging and rewarding when you do finally conquer them. As you try to best each level you are also inclined to collect the K-O-N-G letters and puzzle pieces to unlock even more Donkey Kong goodness.

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The true standout, however, is the game’s boss-fights. Once you finally get to the end of each of the 6 worlds yout are faced with a boss fight that is always incredibly challenging but also really fun. They include several phases in which the boss will change his strategy and you quickly have to adapt and learn his different patterns. I love how much of a challenge these dudes offered, because they take many hits to take down and it really forces you to execute your plan perfectly or else you have to start all over. This definitely isn’t a game that adheres to the hit-him-3-times-and-he’s-dead rule, so be prepared to get your butt handed to you many many MANY times.

You traverse each world on the familiar world map that is very similar to the maps found in the New Super Mario Bros. series. Each world map contains several dots and each dot is a different level (main or hidden), and if they’re not levels then they’re Funky Kong’s shops. That’s right, Funky Kong is back! When you come across Funky Kong’s shops you are given the option to buy a bunch of different things to help you on your journey; such as extra lives, hearts and increased under-water breathing capacity. You can also buy action-figure collectibles of the various characters present in the game, and all of these items are purchased by coins that are scattered throughout the game’s levels.

Luckily, Donkey Kong gets a little help from his friends as he traverses the many different challenges that this game throws at him. Throughout each level you will come across barrels that will spin between 3 possible prizes: Diddy Kong, Dixie Kong and Cranky Kong. Each character brings their own set of abilities to help Donkey Kong out of some tight situations: Diddy Kong uses his jetpack which adds the ability to hover over a stable path, Dixie Kong adds the ability to fly and reach higher spots, and Cranky Kong uses his tail as sort of a pogostick to allow Donkey Kong to bounce over obstacles. I found Dixie Kong to be the most useful, because (as is the case with most platformers) it is crucial to be able to get as much air time as possible to make sure you land in the right spot.

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One last thing that has to be noted about this game is its terrific score. The awesome composer David Wise, who composed the score for the original 3 Donkey Kong Country Game’s but hadn’t done a major video game score in over 10 years, has returned to the series that made him famous with this game. His presence is felt constantly, as every level has a very catchy and impressive track to go with it. There was actually a song that popped up at the beginning of the second world in this game that actually gave me goosebumps because it was so freakin’ beautiful. Mr. Wise, it is great to have you back on board.

Condemn (OR) Condone:

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a fantastic game that really showcases what the Wii U is capable of. The graphics are breath-taking, the score is jaw-dropping, the level design is ridiculously clever and the challenge that the game brings to the table is consistently on a level that is met by few other games these days. Tropical Freeze improves upon the already solid Donkey Kong Country Returns in every possible way, making this a must-own game for any Wii U owner.

Judgment: Condone

[Note] The judgments are the following:

CondemnHate | (O) – Dislike | (OR) – Indifferent | (R) – Like | CondoneLove

Condemn O.R. Condone – Plants Vs. Zombies: Garden Warfare (Xbox One)

A third-person multiplayer shooter, only this one’s packed with charming characters and gorgeous world.

Developer PopCap Games has been dominating the casual gaming market for several years now, with hit titles from puzzle genre like Peggle and Bejeweled sucking up countless hours from those who initially only meant to play for a few minutes. However, their current biggest smash is the tower-defense series, Plants Vs Zombies. The games require the player to defend an area with an assortment of plants from the incoming zombies, utilizing all matter of defensive strategies to stay alive. Despite the game’s casual success, PopCap wasn’t happy with just sticking around in the familiar casual market and decided to up the ante. Thus, Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare was born; a third-person shooter where the Plants ands Zombies battle in a 3D plane for the first time.

It’s a crazy concept on paper, but PopCap has a solid track record and prove that they know what they’re doing here. The charm that was present in the mobile Plants Vs Zombies games is here in spades, with a charming art style and silly voice work that really sucks you into its crazy world. There is no narrative to the game other than the fact that you know that Plants and Zombies hate each other and are battling to the death, as the game focuses entirely on multiplayer. Honestly, this isn’t a problem at all as it retains the casual feel of the mobile games while also offering a surprising amount of depth for the more hardcore players to sink a lot of time into.

Garden Warfare offers a variety of different game modes that more or less line up with the typical modes that you would expect to have in a multiplayer shooter. The mode that nods most noticeably to the mobile games is Garden Ops, where you and up to 3 other players control the plants as they defend a garden through ten waves of zombie strikes. Each wave naturally gets a bit tougher than the last, with the fifth and tenth waves being boss waves that are selected from a roulette spin. This is the most common mode that most flock to regularly, and it makes sense seeing as it’s simple but a heck of a lot of fun. The rest of the playlist mode fills out with silly variations of shooter standards, with modes like deathmatch and domination being called vanquish and suburbination. Even though you’ve more than likely experienced modes like these before, its PopCap’s spin on them that makes them feel fresh.

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The depth of Garden Warfare comes in its variety and customization of playable characters. Both the Plants and Zombies have 5 different base characters that you can select from, each with a unique feel that are suited to particular playing styles. Some characters will be better at close range and others at a distance, and its up to you to figure out what works best for your playing style or even for particular maps. As you use each type of character you will level them up by meeting certain requirements; like using a particular move a certain amount of times or getting a certain amount of kills, thus unlocking special abilities to use in combat. Each character also has a variety of different variants that give them special perks like bullets that set things on fire or deal extra splash damage.

The maps themselves also have a bunch of their own quirks that can have an impact on the outcome of battles. On one level a train comes by regularly on a track that is split down the middle of the map, so if you’re in a heated shoot out and think you can catch your enemy off guard you can try and trick them into crossing the track just before the train comes speeding by. There are also pots that are contained all around the maps that you can put a plant in to aid you in combat. These can be utilized as mini-turrets to provide you back-up fire or even healing flowers that shoot out health when you’ve taken too much damage and need to retreat. There’s a lot of personality in each and every map of the game that truly makes them feel like living and breathing places, adding a lot of immersion to the actual matches themselves.

You unlock much of the games customization content through card packs that are purchased with coins accumulated through completing matches. This area is a lot of fun, as you’re never quite certain what it is that you’re going to get, and that mystery adds a lot of excitement to the mix. There are certain types of packs that promise that you’ll get a specific type of card, though the packs that contain rarer cards will cost more coins. You will often have to collect a certain amount of a particular card to unlock its reward, such as gathering five cards of a certain character to unlock for the use in the game. It’s essentially like a mini card-collecting game that has actual purpose and importance, making it a win-win in my book.

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Even though this is PopCaps first foray into taking Plants Vs. Zombies into the land of three dimensions, the game looks surprisingly good. All of the maps have a lot detail and charm to them with a lot to explore and take in. Most maps have several different areas in them, making them feel much more expansive and substantial than the typical map contained in a shooter. However, its the Plants Vs Zombies distinct visual style that makes this all pop and results in it being pure eye candy no matter how many times you look at it. In fact, I’d say it’s one of the best-looking games of the year so far, from a design and technical stand-point.

It may not be your typical shooter that comes out every other day, but Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare has its own identity that really makes it stand out from the crowd. PopCap Games charming visual design and mechanics are on full display here, successfully transitioning the plants and zombies from 2D to 3D in spectacular fashion. While the game doesn’t feature any kind of campaign to speak of, it makes up for it by offering a lot customization content that gives you plenty of reasons to keep coming back for more. If you’re looking for a shooter that is very different from pretty much everything else on the market today, definitely give Plants Vs Zombies: Garden Warfare a try.

Condone

Condemn O.R. Condone – Bravely Default (3DS)

A traditional RPG that stumbles a few times, but ultimately reminds you how good RPGs used to be.

RPGs are pretty much dead. I’m just gonna come right out and say that, because they are. Long gone are the glory days of the 90’s when the Final Fantasy series was the crown jewel of gaming and countless other titles were wowing gamers left and right. Now, Final Fantasy has become a joke and the traditional RPG has very much fallen by the wayside. How the heck can you bring them back and make them relevant? Well, you make a game called Bravely Default that brings a new twist to traditional RPG combat systems and a story, setting and score that will make you think of the 90’s again. That’s what developer Silicon Studio did, anyway. I would have just released a game called “This RPG Will Get You Rich Quick” and see where that would have gotten me.

So what exactly is Bravely Default? It’s a traditional RPG through and through, as everything from the story, art style, dialogue and themes all hearken back to the days when the RPG heart was still beating strongly. The story follows 4 little heroes from the world known as Luxendarc: Agnès Oblige who is the Wind Vestal that finds the Wind Crystal shrouded in darkness and sets out to restore all 4 crystals back to normal to fend off incoming evil, Tiz Arrior who witnesses his brother and his entire hometown get swallowed up by a great chasm, Edea Lee who is of the Duchy of Eternia who then goes traitor once she learns of the evil they are committing, and Ringabel who is a mysterious vagrant that has no recollection of his past and carries around a notebook that seemingly tells the future.

Now that you’re all caught up on our heroes and their story, let’s talk about the gameplay. The gameplay is far-and-wide the main thing that makes this game shine. The battle system has a unique twist that allows the player to Brave and Default. When you Brave you use up battle points (BP) to attack an enemy consecutively but then forfeit attacks depending on how many times you Brave, and when you Default you forfeit your turn and defend so that you can build up BP to then unleash consecutive attacks later. It really is a simple mechanic, but it is one that adds a lot of depth to what at first appears to be traditional gameplay. If you are level grinding and you know that you can bring down all the enemies with one turn of consecutive hits, you can just Brave to the limit and finish the battle quickly and speed up the level grinding process. Forfeiting a few turn with Default to take reduced damage and then release a flurry of your best attacks with no penalty comes in very useful during boss fights.

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Speaking of boss fights, this game packs some lethal ones. Some of the bosses that you come across in the game won’t be too much of a problem as long as you have been taking the time to level-up your characters a bit, but a good chunk of them will also make you wonder how in the world you are going to beat them. The game has a few jarring difficulty spikes that will knock you on your butt and send you home crying, but as long as you regroup and come up with a better plan and/or gain a few levels you will eventually succeed. This the first game to come along in a while where I was actually left bewildered after I died quickly in a main-story boss fight, and that type of challenge is a very good thing to have in an era of gaming where there rarely is a huge challenge at all.

This game utilizes a job system in which you can change your characters between jobs like Black Mage, Knight, Monk, etc. once you have defeated a boss who had that job and you win their job Asterisk. As you gain job experience points you will level up your jobs which will give you new moves and support abilities that will increase specific stats or give you nice little perks. I really liked how you gained jobs by defeating bosses, as it gave me a better understanding of the job as I had just witnessed the enemy using it against me. There are many different jobs that you acquire throughout the game, and some of them you achieve only from sidequests.

Outside of the game’s lengthy main-quest there are a large assortment of side-quests for you to complete, and they are actually very beneficial to conquering the main-quest. Often in these off-the-beaten-path missions you will come across characters that add a lot to the overall story, and you will gain powerful new jobs that you would not have been able to acquire if you only followed the main-quest. Not only that, but you will gain a lot of experience and items from the dungeons that these quests lead you through, which makes you far more prepared to take on anything once you return to the main story-line.

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Another optional but very important aspect of the game is the rebuilding of Tiz’s hometown of Norende. You have a screen that gives you a map of Norende and all of the different shops you can rebuild, such as weapon shops and item shops that can be built up several times to give you more powerful items. After you begin rebuilding the shops you will then have to wait an allotted amount of real-life time before they are finished. You can just go on with the game to make the time pass, but the best thing to do is just put your 3DS on sleep mode while you’re not playing and your workers will continue construction while you’re doing other things! Also, if you utilize StreetPass you can recruit other players to join your town which reduces the time that each building takes to be finished.

If I have one complaint about Bravely Default, it is the voice acting. The characters themselves are all very likeable and the dialogue is well-written, but the majority of the voice actors just don’t know what to do with the lines they have. The biggest offenders are Agnès and her fairy Airy (original name!). Whenever Agnès speaks she makes it sound like her lungs are about to explode due to her over-acting, and Airy has the most obnoxiously high-pitched voice that I often wanted mute her. You have the option to switch the voice acting off, but that’s unfair to the voice actors of Tiz and especially Ringabel who both do great jobs.

One point where the audio is terrific is the game’s score. As you traverse the world of Bravely Default you are not only witness to some beautiful visuals and locations, but they are also accompanied by a grand and sweeping orchestral score that was composed by Revo. In every location and scenario the score is there to give it the necessary oomph that really sucks you into the setting and makes you feel like you are apart of the epic adventure. Soundtracks are rarely anything special these days, so when one like this comes along it really enhances the overall experience.

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Apart from a few little nitpicks, Bravely Default is an RPG that needs to be experienced by anyone with a small or big interest in RPGs. It brings back everything that made RPGs great in the 90’s which gives it a very nostalgic feeling, but also adds enough variety and new ideas to make the game feel fresh. The game gives you so much to do and explore and offers a world so vibrant and interesting that it is very easy to get lost in its confines for hours on end. Simply put, you need to play Bravely Default, because if you don’t I’ll find you and make you play the last few Final Fantasy games.

CONDONE