Thursday, May 9, 2013

Mario Superstar Baseball

 Hey everyone, sorry for such a long break in posts, life gets busy!  Thankfully I’ll be having some help in the near future on this blog so I will try to make these posts a regular occurrence once more.  With that being said, lets dive back in!

Our game today is one of my favorites, a perfect for the spring/ summer season we are in right now.  Mario Super Sluggers is loads of fun for anyone who loves baseball, or just anyone who loves having a good time playing with friends and family. 

At its core MSS is like any normal baseball game, with players attempting to score runs while keeping the other team from scoring.  But of course this is a Mario game, and those games cannot be held to just a normal sports experience! Players can choose from the whole cast of characters to fill out their roster, from the obligatory Mario or Bowser to less known charcaters like the Piantas from Super Mario Sunshine or even King K Rool from Donkey Kong.  Different players have different abilities on the field and team selections can be a big part of the game.  There are also several different fields players can choose from, most having some sort of crazy gimmick that can mess with the game.  Bowser Jr’s playroom has chain chomps in the outfield while on Daisy’s cruise ship a giant blooper can tip the entire field to the right or the left.  These situations lead to a lot of ridiculous and fun playing scenarios.  Now on to the actual baseball game!

Each player has a set number of players who they are friends with, like Mario is friends with Luigi (makes sense right?).   If they are near each other on the field or next to each other in the batting order, friends award each other with bonuses or items that can be tossed around, such as banana peels, green shells or even bob-bombs.  On top of this, if you so choose, the captains of teams (normally the main characters from the Mario universe) can have special abilities at the plate or on the field.  Mario can ignite the ball when he hits it, sending a fireball ripping across the field or Waluigi creates two balls off the bat, one that is fake and if caught will knock a fielder dizzy.  These abilities add another level of crazy to an already goofy game.

Mario Super Sluggers was made to play with other people, even allowing you to have all four players on the same team.  It is easily one of my favorite multiplayer games, one that my friends and I constantly turn to when the Wii is plugged in.  It helps teach kids not only how to lose gracefully, but win in the same fashion.  On top of that this is one of the few sports titles on the market that actually rewards teamwork.  With multiple players on the same team, the player on deck is in charge of using the items for the batting player that can result in an out becoming a hit.  This is a fun game that you don’t have to be a sports fan to play, as long as you are up for having some fun.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

We'll be taking a bit of a different focus today, as not all of the fun games we can play at the library are video games. Instead, today I want to focus on a really fun board game I played recently, one that is a ton of fun and (don't tell anyone!) actually a really great educational tool.

The game comes with a set of nine cubes, each with a different image on each side.  In order to play, players roll a set number of dice, the more dice the more difficult the game will be.  Once the dice have been rolled the player then keeps track of the images that are face up, then must write a story using each of the items that came up.  For example, in the picture above the player that rolled these dice must attempt to write a short story including an eye, a shooting star, a turtle, a bridge, an apple etc.  The number of cubes rolled can vary, changing the difficulty of the game for the age of the participants.  Older players can even participate at the same time as younger ones, the older ones will just have more cubes to work into their story.  Once all of the stories have been written, players will each take a turn at reading their stories aloud to the group.

This game is a lot of fun for kids of all ages, it gets participants working on their writing skills while laughing and having fun writing wacky stories.  A vivid imagination is almost required for this game, something that most kids have no problem bringing to the table. While writing and reading aloud their own stories to the group may be a bit daunting, once the ball gets rolling kids will be clamoring over one another as to who gets to be the next one to share.  With no specific goal or end game there are no winners and losers, which is key for a learning game of this type.  With no specific winners or losers, kids won't be discouraged if something they wrote didn't win. 

This game offers a ton of upside for kids of any age level.  It promotes using your imagination, good writing skills and confidence speaking in front of a group.  With such open ended gameplay, the players have a lot of control over how the game is played and what happens in their stories, an excellent departure for kids used to playing games that direct exactly from one action to the next.  In most situations writing short stories like this would be considered a chore, or even homework for players, but the addition of the cubes and the randomization of play makes all the difference and injects an exciting fun factor.  While we don't currently have a copy of this game at the library, look for it to be arriving soon!

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Back to the handheld side of games for a bit, with my first post about one of my favorite series of all time. 

                The Legend of Zelda: Spirit Tracks is the second legend of Zelda game made for the Nintendo DS.  The series dates back to the original Nintendo Entertainment System and has been a centerpiece of any Nintendo system since. In each story the green clad hero Link must save whatever realm he happens to be residing in from destruction by evil forces.  While the villains change throughout the series, Link is our ever present hero.  By traveling through dungeons and solving puzzles, the player is ultimately able to save the day and thwart whatever evil plot had been concocted.  
                In this game Link has been awarded the honor of being a spirit train conductor, giving him the ability to travel all across the world in his special train, following the spirit tracks that crisscross the countryside (hence the title of the game).  Unfortunately, the tracks that are so important to everyone in the kingdom are slowly disappearing and no one knows why.  It is up to the player to guide Link across the world to bring the tracks back and find out why they are in danger.  Players navigate their way across the tracks to reach new levels and complete side missions, gaining new equipment and bonuses along the way.  Exploration is always a big part of any Zelda game and for a lot of experienced Zelda gamers Spirit tracks was a bit of a disappointment due to the fact that you were only allowed to navigate where the tracks were.  In the previous game the entire world was covered by an ocean and the player was able to sail anywhere they wanted, without any prohibitions.  However, being stuck on the tracks actually makes this a perfect game for younger players or those who have never played a Legend of Zelda game.  The tracks help guide you along to the major plot points and also give hints as to where side quests are hidden.  Whereas in other games less experienced gamers could become hopelessly lost and confused, Spirit Tracks is the perfect place to start for someone playing a Zelda game for the first time.
                This particular game has the same cel shaded graphics that were used for the Gamecube “Windwaker” Zelda game and for the first Zelda game on the DS “The Phantom Hourglass”.  This type of animation embraces  its cartoony side, using a lot of round shapes and bright colors.  This is one of the reasons why this is one of the better Legend of Zelda games for younger players.  The bright colors and graphic style appeal to younger gamers without coming off as babyish or too cute and cuddly.
                Overall, I think that any Zelda game for a Nintendo system is a great purchase.  While there is no multiplayer aspect to the games, they story that each weaves along the way on top of the puzzles that need to be solved to pass each level make them classic pieces of gaming.  If you’re new to the series and have a DS, Spirit Tracks is a fantastic place to start.  If you’ve played Zelda games before and haven’t picked this one up yet, you won’t be disappointed.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Dusting off old franchises has become a staple of Nintendo’s game development arsenal and lucky for us, they are really good at it.

                Donkey Kong Country Returns is a complete blast from the past, being the first console platformer for Donkey Kong since the Super Nintendo era.  While there have been other Donkey Kong games in the years since, none of them have been in the style of the original Donkey King Country games.  Once again Donkey Kong’s banana horde has been stolen by some baddies and he must make his way through level after level to retrieve his stolen goods. Level design is pretty basic in the beginning, really evoking the early worlds from the original Donkey Kong Country.  While this isn’t a bad thing, the nostalgia isn’t quite as nice as it is in some other games.  The first world or two can actually be a bit boring for an experienced gamer. Fortunately, this isn’t the case with the rest of the game.  Later levels are designed beautifully, and I found myself looking forward to what the next set of screens would challenge me with.

                The only potential downside to this game is that a challenge is exactly what it is.  While not as blisteringly hard as Rayman: Origins, DKCR still holds a lot of challenge for gamers, especially less experienced ones.  However, this game does offer an auto play mode that most games of this sort do not.  After failing a particular level a certain number of times, the game offers to complete it itself.  If selected, the gamer can put their controller down and watch the computer navigate DK through the level.  While this will not appeal to some people, it does offer players a chance to skip particularly hard sections and allow them to experience the entire game.  For this reason even inexperienced gamers are able to fully enjoy DKCR, while they wouldn’t be able to do so with other games of this caliber.

                Another aspect that helps make this game more enjoyable is the introduction of simultaneous co-operative play.  Co-op play was available in the original games on the Super Nintendo, but players had to take turns controlling their characters, only playing when the other players character had died.  In this version players can play simultaneously, making some of the platforming sections a little tricky but providing a lot of opportunities for tense and wacky fun.

                Donkey Kong Country Returns is another game on the list of franchises that Nintendo has revived from the past.  As solid as its predecessors, this game is fun for players of any age, even parents who used to love playing their old Super Nintendos.  If you’re looking for a game to play with your kids that the whole family can enjoy but are sick of the usual board game fare, try this one on for size and you will not be disappointed.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Would Mario by any other name be as much fun? In the case of “Rayman Origins” it just might top the reigning platformer king.

                Platformers are some of the most classic games that can be played, they are just as popular today as they were when the original Super Mario World was released in the 1980s.  “Rayman Origins” is a platformer at heart, but manages to execute it to near perfection. On top of this, the game also gives players the option of playing the game co-operatively, working together or against one another to reach the end of each level.
                There are a few aspects of a platforming game that must be done well in order for the game to be fun.  The first is to have an accurate, consistent and fun physics engine.  If the on screen character doesn’t jump the same way every time or react as quickly as the player can, a fun game can quickly become frustrating and impossible.  While the game can be hard, the player needs to feel as if it was a mistake they made that led to falling off a ledge or jumping on a bad guy, not the game cheating them.  “Origins” does this extremely well.  While the levels can be extremely hard, I never once felt as though the game had cheated me or was unfair. 
                Another aspect that platforming games need to do well to succeed is to have intriguing and interesting level design.  “Origins” is done in a fun art style that is very bright and goofy looking.  The creatures and levels are just as much fun to look at as they are to jump, fly and run past.  From the obligatory underwater levels to lush jungles and slippery glaciers, each of the different levels in Origins offers a bit of flavor that makes the game that much more fun to play.
                What sets this game apart from other sin its genre is the multiplayer it offers.  While newer Mario games also offer multiplayer, they can be a bit tricky at times.  Players can get stuck behind one another or run into each other, preventing gamers from making perfectly timed jumps that become necessary as the game progresses.  “Origins” implements a perfect mix of player interaction without preventing gamers from having fun with even 4 players playing at one time.  Players can lift one another up if both enter the same movements into the joystick.  They can also smack one another which can send characters careening off course, usually resulting in hilarity.  But the characters do not bump into one another or get stuck on one another, a little change that makes this game immensely more enjoyable than any of the New Super Mario Brothers games.
                The only caveat when it comes to playing “Rayman Origins” is that the game can be extremely difficult.  Not for the faint of heart or the short tempered, even experienced gamers will get stuck on certain levels.  However, it is not so hard that the game becomes impossible or no fun to play.  While I am not normally a fan of these types of games, the multiplayer aspect makes this one a must have.  On top of the social aspect, the accurate physics engine works at developing gamers hand eye coordination, often requiring gamers to move their characters across the screen at high speeds from one narrow ledge to the next.  Even if it is played solo, “Rayman Origins” is not to be missed by gamers of any age.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Find some friends and work together to stop the evil Rudebelly and get your treasure back!

                This little known Wii game is definitely a blast from the past, calling to mind classic titles such as Battletoads and The Simpsons along with the more recent Castle Crashers.  All of these games are classified as brawlers, where players must team up to fight their way through levels of evil bad guys to achieve the ultimate goal, whether it be saving the princess or saving the world.  This title is a little different from the others that I have written about before in a couple of different ways, but the biggest reason I chose to take a closer look at Pirates Plundarrr is the nostalgia it evokes.

                 Brawlers were some of the first co-operative multiplayer games available to console players back during the first few console generations.  Players are required to pick a character, usually having 3-4 options and then work together to advance through levels by disposing of enemy after enemy in often ridiculous fashion.  Pirates Plundarr does little to stray from this concept, which is not a bad thing.  The gameplay is deepened slightly with a few add ons, the leveling up system and the extensive list of weapons to be found and used by your characters.  Each time a character earns enough experience points to level up, a player may add a skill point to one of around 10 skills.  Adding to health increases your characters health, adding to treasure find increases the amount of gold enemies drop when defeated and so forth. This adds a bit of an incentive to playing further, and helps players make their characters unique from one another.  The weapon system is also a fun addition to this style of game.  Weapons range from pirate swords to legs of ham and can be found scattered across each of the levels of play.  Collecting the best, or the goofiest, weapons is a fun side quest in this game that keeps it from growing stale.

                This is a perfect game for kids to have some fun with.  From the beginning it drops players right into the action and keeps going until the end. While I wouldn’t recommend this game to someone playing by themselves, this is perfect for a group of kids to be able to pick up and play together at any time.  And because of the gameplays old school roots, it is also a great one to play with older siblings or parents who have fond memories of gaming in their earlier years.  While this game doesn’t have the educational upside that a lot of the other games I have written about do, that doesn’t mean it should be overlooked.  Games of this type help create a lot of good bonding moments and memories, not of the game but with the people the game is played with.  Playing multiplayer video games with friends and family doesn’t get much better than this.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Hey everyone! Puzzle games are a huge part of the handheld market, and if you haven't played these games you are definitely missing out!


This is the first handheld game I will have posted about, and because of that I made sure to pick a gem (or five of them!).  The professor Layton series currently has 4 titles that have been released in America “Professor Layton and the Curious Village”, “Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box”, Professor Layton and the Unwound Future”, Professor Layton and the Last Specter”, and the newest “Professor Layton and the Miracle Mask”.  The first four can be played on a Nintendo DS or DSi, but the fifth game is made for the Nintendo 3DS system.  Each of these games features Professor Layton, a college Professor who lives in England who is called upon by various people to solve some perplexing cases.  It is up to the player to solve a myriad of puzzles that will lead the story to its final climax.

The gameplay takes a very slow place, with players touching arrows on the DS screen to move from one area to another looking for clues and solving puzzles.  However, this slow pace takes nothing away from the game and actually helps the player search each screen meticulously for new puzzles and hint coins that help solve the many puzzles.  Speaking of puzzles, these games have some great ones! This is the meat of the game, and each successive version has more and more of them.  Puzzles range from math problems, to navigating mazes and word games.  Some of these can be quite hard, but with the help of the hint coins found in the game they can all be solved.  Solving puzzles progresses the story till its final climax, when Layton and his companions are able to piece together the final conclusion.

This series is an excellent teaching tool for many gamers, especially those 10 and up.  Any younger and some of the puzzles could be quite difficult to solve without some help.  But for those able, the puzzles force gamers to evaluate different situations and think outside the box.  Both math and literacy skills are developed by the puzzles, a great benefit to this fantastic game.  On top of this, about 90 percent of the story is presented through on screen script.  Gamers read a fantastic amount of print in order to understand and appreciate the story.  The game plays much like a book, with a puzzle break every 2-3 pages.

The only downside to this game is that there is no built in multiplayer, but this is one of the few games that I still recommend without it.  A multiplayer mode wouldn’t really make sense or have a purpose to this game and often enough players will need to ask those around them for a little help in solving the puzzles!  For gamers above the age of ten with a handheld Nintendo system I would highly recommend any one of these games.  Each has an excellent story and helps promote growth on many levels from reading comprehension to thinking outside the box and utilizing math skills. Pick any of these up and feel confident that you will love playing it as much any younger gamer.