I’ve been slack. Once a devoted Nintendo fanboy who would devour any new Mario games within days of release, I’ve recently allowed myself to become distracted by numerous other games on other consoles. Today, I was determined to make amends, to give New Super Mario Bros. Wii the dedicated attention it deserved, and sat down to my save at World 5 determined not to get up again until the final credits rolled.

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As I’ve mentioned recently, since the turn of the decade I’ve been obsessed with the online multiplayer deathmatches and dominations of a certain Modern Warfare 2, to the point where I’ve been seeing snipers in my sleep and idly fantasizing about tossing semtex into a group of hooligans raising hell outside our flat. What better way, then, to soothe my frayed nerves and assuage my battered psyche, than by settling down to a type of game that, for me, started it all off all those years ago – a 2D platformer on a Nintendo console? Enter Wario Land: The Shake Dimension (aka Wario Land: Shake It! in the US).

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Balancing the expectations of a veteran enthusiast who grew up with Mario games, and a casual gamer only just getting to grips with the platforming exploits of the portly plumber was always going to be a tough task. Judging by the amount of laughs me and my girlfriend shared within our first few hours of the follow-up to the DS game, New Super Mario Bros. Wii makes a decent fist of it. And it does it in vibrant and colourful style, with a grin-inducing spoonful of nostalgia to boot.

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The Beatles: Rock Band // PS3

November 12, 2009

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In 1992, Hungarian psychology professor Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi penned a book entitled ‘Flow‘, which describes a ‘mental state of operation in which the person is fully immersed in what he or she is doing by a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and success in the process of the activity.’ My own eyes were opened by the book several years ago, but I admit to stooping to lazy journalism by lifting that quote from the Wikipedia entry rather than re-read the text. Essentially, flow is a single-minded focus where absorption in an activity is so great that ego is ignored. I promise I’m going somewhere with this…

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Being a fan of the original Dead Space, of on-rails-shooters in general, and being the only genre where my girlfriend and I can play together in perfect harmony without me screaming at her for constantly making her character either look down at the floor or up at the ceiling; the chances were high that I (or we rather) would really enjoy Dead Space Extraction.

After the histrionics, chronic cussing and B-movie spoof antics of our last lightgun game, House Of The Dead: Overkill, the sinister, dark vibe of Extraction is a rather brutal shock, especially when the earliest chapters insist on allowing you to reload your Rivet Gun with all the urgency of a particularly lazy sloth. Aliens (Necromorphs to be exact) shamble at you with frightening speed, and like the original instalment in the franchise, actively encourage wanton dismemberment by blasting the legs from their malformed bodies.

There is a lot of character-building and story-setting in the opening stages of the game, particularly for a light gun game, and it’s seriousness is hampered by some ropey voice acting and game-slowing text logs. When it forgoes the sense of narrative, Extraction starts to deliver some great action, enlivened with new ideas such as the ‘soldering’ mini-games, statis, and the Glow Worm – a chargeable light stick powered up by a shake of the Wii-mote.

We are too early into the story mode to deliver any definitive assessment of the game’s merits, but early indications show that if it starts prioritising action over laboured story-telling scenes, Extraction could be the most harmonious game experience my girlfriend and I enjoy together before we go back to playing our own games ;)

First Impressions: de Blob

September 2, 2009

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My Wii has probably been feeling neglected recently. It’s slight white frame sits right next to the shiny black beast that is the Ps3, positively cowering in it’s shadow. It probably couldn’t believe it’s luck when I booted it up in favour of it’s more powerful cousin and slid de Blob into it’s whirring bowels. If more Wii games offered the sheer exuberant uniqueness of Blue Tongue’s paint-em-up, maybe Nintendo’s magic box wouldn’t be as dusty as it currently is.

A whirlwind half hour of play on de Blob goes by in a riotous blur of colour and cute characters, but also paints a picture of what I imagine the rest of the game to offer. I expect the developer’s initial pitch to publishers THQ was an interesting day – I imagine it went something like this:

“So you control this blob character that whizzes around this city.”

“O…K. What’s the character’s name?”

“Blob. Just Blob.”

“I see.”

“And this evil corporation has sucked out all of the colour in the city. And basically you have to go around absorbing paint up and repainting the buildings.”

<Silence>

Despite the odd premise, de Blob’s slick controls, bright colours and huge sprites feels instantly familiar, even if the developers made the odd decision to map the jump function to a swing of the Wii-mote instead of a button press, making some of the tricker platforms a frustrating experience to navigate. Buildings receive their lick of paint in showers of sparkle and glitz, each renovated block freeing up Graydians, little blobbies that you hoover up as one of the game’s many collectibles; each one giving an adorable little squee of delight and pulse of colour that brings back fond memories of Super Mario Galaxy. If de Blob does well in earning a comparison with such stellar alumni, it struggles to match the Wii’s flagship mascot title in terms of gameplay variety. Although I’ve admittedly only played through the first level for this First Impressions post, that level really only did contain painting buildings, whether from the outside or in. I’m hoping for more diversity of challenge from this point on.

As a reminder that games don’t have to follow tired old tropes though, de Blob excels. A quick half hour joy-ride in Chroma City, slinging primary colours about is enough to convince anyone that there is still a place for innovation in an industry where sequels and franchises currently enjoy a stranglehold.

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