Tag Archive: platformer


I’ve gushed over puzzle-platformers enough times at this point that it should come as no surprise that when I see a new one on the horizon, my interest is immediately piqued. So, when I saw the trailer for Little Nightmares, the same feeling of wonder and curiosity that usually comes over me again returned. Once I actually played Little Nightmares, however, any good will this game had garnered by crafting itself around one of my favorite genres was quickly lost, never to recover.

Little Nightmares follows the plight of a small girl named Six who is trapped in an underwater ship called The Maw. Six must try to escape this prison before she becomes the next snack for one of the Maw’s many hungry residents, and she will have to use all her ingenuity to outsmart her captors and earn her freedom.

I will say one thing that Little Nightmares does well—and which is evident almost from the very beginning—is the mood and atmosphere it established. The chilling music and sheer emptiness of the world that Six starts her adventure in immediately lets you know the odds are stacked against you. Her bright yellow tunic serves as a stark contrast against the mechanical, muted tones of each of the game’s five levels, providing a beacon that constantly pulls your eyes to it, similar to how Six’s singular tool—a small lighter—lights her way through some of the game’s more cramped corridors or ventilation shafts.

The cantankerous creatures that roam these oversized areas only punctuate the vastness of the Maw. Gluttonous, disgusting humanoids intended to elicit the most negative of reactions from all who glimpse their bloated forms will chase Six at the slightest hint of her presence for much of the game. Outsmarting them and, more commonly, outmaneuvering them is the only way to survive.

Unfortunately, these “people” also serve as the only form of real challenge in an overly simple game, and they are a paltry one at that. Almost no thought is required in order to overcome many of the obstacles of the Maw, with usually only a couple of well-timed jumps getting the job done, or Six sneaking by an unsuspecting denizen guarding the path. It feels like someone confused a running simulator with an actual puzzle-platformer.

The only small semblance of difficulty comes from the camera and controls, and their technical limitations. The camera feels like it’s constantly swaying, as if it’s attached to the hull of the Maw’s ship and sliding along as Six works her way up and out of its different levels. This swaying, however, is not conducive to the platforming that often needs to be carried out to get by the pits that provide Six’s most common obstacle. It also feels at times like the camera is lagging behind her, catching Six at an odd angle instead of seeing her perfectly perpendicular from the side. This causes the controls to slightly shift depending on where the camera is positioned, and walking across thin beams can become a nuisance as forward is no longer perfectly to the right or left on your joystick, and you slightly start to veer off course through no fault of your own. There’s nothing more frustrating than slipping off the edge of a small platform that you thought you were walking straight on, or making a jump that you had the distance for, but find Six hitting the edge and falling because the depth made the next platform look like it was on a different jumping line.

Well, there might be one more frustrating thing. Six has very limited abilities in the game and therefore, in order to try to fill up buttons on the PS4 controller, simple traversal abilities that are often assigned to only one button in more complex games are divided up amongst the other buttons. If you’re an Assassin’s Creed fan, you’re likely familiar with the “claw grip” of the early games, where your hands are basically locked onto the X and R2 buttons (A and RT on Xbox controllers) in order to parkour through the world. Similarly, you must hold Square and R2 with Six in order to not only climb, but also grab ledges when you make jumps across pits. If you’re not holding both, Six will hit the ledge at her waist, and instead of latching on, fall to her death. This is made all the more complicated by X being the jump button, forcing three simultaneous button presses to be made to traverse most obstacles—and I just don’t understand why run and grab are on two different inputs. It felt like it was a desperate attempt to make the simplest game controls more complex in an attempt to cover up the game’s actual lack of challenge.

Some of this could potentially be forgiven if the mystery of the Maw and Six’s plight could pull you in, but sadly it failed to do so for me. I wonder if it’s because I never felt truly in danger traversing the environment, my only failures ever coming due to the shortcomings of the controls and camera. What’s worse is when the game finally starts to feel like it’s ramping up its stakes, Six’s plight, and the game’s underlying messages, it pulls the plug. I finished the game in just under three hours; while there are plenty of experiences of comparable length more than worthy of your time out there, like last year’s Inside for example, Little Nightmares felt like it was just scratching the surface of what it wanted to be when it runs out of steam.

I believe the most obvious message the game tries to convey is the evils of modern consumerism, portrayed by the gluttony of the Maw’s patrons, and Six’s own poignant near-starvation that crops up near the end of each level. Little Nightmares could’ve gone so much further than a buffet table and a kitchen, however; gambling, alcohol, sex, and other vices could’ve all had their chances to shine on the Maw, and would’ve lent length and weight to a game that feels incomplete as is. Even the weird lord of the Maw’s seeming obsession with beauty and physical perfection is barely touched upon with more than a few symbols.

Little Nightmares tries to surround itself in symbolism and mystery, and succeeds in painting a bleak and moody atmosphere at least. At the same time, it failed to find a way to make me care about the main character’s plight. What’s worse is that its poor controls and camera, and utter lack of challenge, had lost me by the time it started to feel like it was finally going somewhere. My only relief came when the end credits began to roll on this poor attempt at a puzzle-platformer.

Publisher: Bandai Namco Entertainment • Developer: Tarsier Studios • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 04.28.17
4.0
A stellar atmosphere is not enough to save such a puzzle-platformer that completely lacks any sort of challenge. While the story of Six is a sad one, it’s not for the fact that her adventure begins in a cage—but that the developer failed to find a way to make me care about it at all.
The Good Beautifully crafted, atmospheric world.
The Bad Controls poorly and the overall game lacks any sort of challenge.
The Ugly Is being eaten a really scary thing for European children? I don’t get it. That was never a thing for me as a kid.
Little Nightmares  is available on PS4, Xbox One, and PC. Primary version reviewed was for PS4. Review code was provided by Bandai Namco for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Like many gamers around my age, my gaming prime came on the Nintendo 64. Those late adolescent/early teen years of my life were spent pouring hour after hour into the medium’s first 3D worlds, and few experiences hold as special a place in my heart as the action-platformers on Nintendo’s system. Driven to grab every collectible, I’d spend hours watching counters go up as I crossed items off, only to start a new save file and do it all over again. One of my particular favorites was Banjo-Kazooie, and so I was nothing if not intrigued when I found out many of the minds behind that classic from my youth had started a new studio, and successfully Kickstarted a throwback to that era titled Yooka-Laylee. While it was fun to walk down an updated memory lane, Yooka-Laylee is also a reminder in some ways of how far we’ve come in gaming, and how some things are better left in the past.

Yooka-Laylee follows the titular duo of a chameleon (Yooka) and his best bat friend (Laylee) as they enjoy a relaxing day at their new home Shipwreck Creek, which is just outside the corporate Hivory Towers. Meanwhile, the head honcho of the Hivory Towers, Capital B, sets in motion a plan to steal all the world’s literature as he looks for one special, magical book. It should shock no one that the book is actually in Laylee’s possession, and she and Yooka don’t take kindly to having it suddenly taken away from them. The book’s pages—dubbed “Pagies” in the game—don’t take to this idea either, ripping themselves from their bindings and scattering about the tower. Now, Yooka and Laylee must race to collect all 145 pages, put the book back together, and stop Capital B’s plans once and for all.

Yooka-Laylee is a textbook spiritual successor to Banjo-Kazooie. The names have changed, the worlds have changed, and even some of the powers have changed, but playing Yooka-Laylee is like forcing yourself to feel déjà vu for 10 to 20 hours depending on how many collectibles you go after (a one-hundred percent run took me almost 20 hours) and if you ever played those original games. For me, this was great, because I love the colorful characters, the tongue-in-cheek British humor, and the puzzle solving and platforming gameplay that served as staples for Banjo-Kazooie (and continue here). But, after wiping the nostalgia from my eyes like crud caked onto them after oversleeping, I realize there are also some problems with living in the past like Yooka-Laylee does, since the game largely ignores the 20 years of progress games development have made.

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The first (and most) evident problem is the camera. Even after the day one patch, I still felt like I had to wrestle with the damn thing like it was 1998 all over again. Here I was, swearing at the TV that the angle wouldn’t let me see what I wanted to see, or that it had pulled in too close while Laylee was using her flying power, or that the perspective suddenly shifted, and so too did the controls. The good old days, right? It was a common and accepted occurrence back then, but we’ve progressed past that as an industry for the most part—yet here was this nuisance from the past cropping up once again.

The controls are also looser than all the bowel movement jokes worked into the game. While they’re rarely bad enough to ever actively get in the way of you beating the game, they can get frustrating—especially with Laylee’s flying or Yooka’s roll move that allows you to traverse steep inclines—when trying to grab collectibles as you just barely over or undershoot your target because it feels like you’re fighting the controls more than you should be.

Another favorite problem is the game-breaking glitch. Banjo-Kazooie had one that was never fixed (even when it was re-released with Rare Replay) called the Bottles Puzzle Glitch. This would make it so if you did a particular puzzle before collecting all 900 music notes in that game, some of them would magically disappear, and you’d be stuck just shy of 100-percent.

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In Yooka-Laylee, there seems to be a similar glitch in world four, the Capital Cashino. In order to obtain most Pagies in the level, you need to collect 10 coins on various casino-based mini-games, a fun change of pace that adds variety to the experience. I discovered late in my playthrough that by destroying out of order slot machines, you could grab a bunch of coins at once. Thanks to that, I wound up cashing in four Pagies worth of coins at one time, after which the little auto-save icon popped up and then faded away. I ran around for a few more minutes looking for (but never finding) more coins, and then I proceeded to turn my game off for the night. To my horror, when I returned to Yooka-Laylee the next morning, not only did I not have all four Pagies I had cashed in my coins for (I only was credited with two of them), but the coins and the out of order slot machines themselves were gone from the world. So, too, was every other coin I had already collected from the world.

Now, this wouldn’t stop me from beating the game, but it’s clearly a glitch that prevents you from getting 100-percent in the end (like the Bottles Glitch). I believe the autosave point happened in-between the Pagie counter increases but after I cashed in all the coins at the same time. It was unfortunate, and it’s—admittedly—a lot of speculation on my part to the hows and whys of the matter, but after several hours I resigned myself to starting a new game, beginning from scratch, and cashing in 10 coins as soon as I got them every time in Capital Cashino—then getting my full clear on that playthrough.

Yooka-Laylee does do a fine job of following in its ancestor’s footsteps on the positive side of things as well, however. The worlds are absolutely gorgeous, with colors that you didn’t even know existed just popping off your screen. As well, the soundtrack is amazing; I’m still humming the opening theme while writing this, and honestly you’d be hard-pressed to get the Capital Cashino theme out of my head.

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The worlds are also absolutely massive. There may be only five of them—six if you count the main hub—and they may start out at a size comparable to what we were used to in the N64 days, but Yooka-Laylee adds variety by allowing you to spend Pagies to quadruple the area of each world, offering up hours of additional puzzle-solving and keeping each world from growing stale as a new cavalcade of characters are introduced with even more quests to complete.

And, my glitch notwithstanding, each collectible feels challenging, but not ever unobtainable. This is a difficult balance to strike to get people to keep playing and not be bored of the collection process, yet Yooka-Laylee makes it feel effortless. There’s also a great open-endedness to each challenge, which is something I had forgotten I loved about these games. You can bend the rules once you have the proper tools at your disposal in order to circumvent some of the difficulty. In fact, I’d recommend doing the bare minimum to open up each basic world and concentrate on obtaining the full repertoire of Yooka and Laylee’s moveset. Once you unlock all their abilities, you’ll be able to find faster, more efficient ways of solving puzzles and beating bosses when you subsequently backtrack.

Speaking of powers, Yooka and Laylee also have a bevy of transformations courtesy of a character named Dr. Puzz that would put Mumbo Jumbo’s magic to shame. Plant, animal, and even vehicle forms allow the duo to explore every nook and cranny of each world. There’s also an additional power you can utilize over the course of the game called Tonics that offer everything from more health to more special ability meter, or even just fun stuff like giving Yooka familiar-looking blue pants to wear—but you can only ever have one active at a time.

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One other minor addition sees Yooka-Laylee borrow something from the modern era: multiplayer. A polygonal dinosaur character named Rextro is the purveyor of old-school arcade games inside the main campaign, and he also offers up some local co-op and versus multiplayer options for up to four players on one couch. It’s a nice touch from a crew that supposedly always wanted to add a multiplayer component to the Banjo games, but could never do it back in the N64 days.

Finally, there’s the writing. Personally, I loved much of the tone of this game. It never takes itself too seriously, and the toilet humor finds an interesting sweet spot between what we saw in Conker’s Bad Fur Day and Banjo-Kazooie—including in the very first level, where you need to loosen the bowels of a talking cloud in order to get it to rain or snow in the world to unlock new challenges. I also liked many of the characters, like the aforementioned Rextro, and Trowzer, the special move-selling snake. Heck, even the loading screens make fun of the game itself, or how games used to be back in the N64 era. You could potentially alienate some of your younger audience with references back to the days of memory cards and cartridges, but I found it to be charming.

Yooka-Laylee was a fun stroll down memory lane, but it also serves an unintentional purpose: It reminds us how much better things have gotten in games over the years. While still being solid in its own right as an action-platformer, its humor and style won’t resonate with everyone, and there are definitely some technical issues holding it back. However, for those of us who grew up with Banjo-Kazooie, our rose-colored glasses can remain mostly intact as we hunt for countless collectibles, even as our tastes have matured along with the industry. Hopefully, those unfamiliar with the roots of this game will be able to forgive that, sometimes, we older gamers just wanted a talking, constipated cloud to change the world around us, and focus on the platforming instead.

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Publisher: Team17 • Developer: Playtonic Games • ESRB: E10+ – Everyone 10 and up • Release Date: 04.11.17
7.0
Some long-forgotten issues from way back in the day crop up again in this throwback action-plaformer, but even if you aren’t playing it through the nostaliga of someone who grew up with Banjo-Kazooie or other adventures like it, you’ll still find a solid game to play in Yooka-Laylee.
The Good It’s a love-letter in every imaginable way to classic 3D platforming adventures of the N64 days.
The Bad It stays too true to form from the N64 days, and carries over a lot of the issues with those games as well.
The Ugly The save glitch in the Capital Cashino world that required me to start my entire game over if I wanted to make a one-hundred percent run.
Yooka-Laylee is available on Xbox One, PS4, and PC and coming later for the Switch. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox One. Review code was provided by Team17 for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

Bending over backwards for Fru

It’s hard to argue the fact that the Kinect is the latest in a long line of failed gaming peripherals. We could be here all day talking about why, but one of the main reasons is that in the nearly six years since it released, I can barely name a handful of good games for it. Most were too gimmicky, too unresponsive, or just simply weren’t fun. Although the Xbox One’s second generation Kinect was better equipped to deal with these shortcomings, it couldn’t do enough to warrant the system’s higher price tag, helping to turn away many would-be early adopters. Even those of us who took the plunge with Kinect 2.0 have either packed it away or simply use it as a quick way to sign-in and enter download codes. So, I was downright flabbergasted to find one developer still working on a Kinect game (even though we hadn’t seen it since E3 2014), and even more so when that game turned out to be pretty damn enjoyable.

Fru is a puzzle-platformer that tasks players with guiding a small, masked girl through a mysterious world. Over the course of the game’s 110 stages, you’ll come to learn what happened to this world, what the girl is trying to reach, and why you, the player, have the ability to help her through this adventure.

There’s really not a lot to Fru’s story, which is definitely one of its drawbacks as it tries to differentiate itself from the failed, gimmick-driven games of the Kinect’s past. All told, there are only eight sentences of narrative in the entire game, and a few short scenes that string together the simple story. But for what the story lacks in depth, the gameplay makes up for in spades.

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There are only two controls in Fru: running and jumping. You can run with either joystick on the Xbox One controller, and jump with either trigger. The reason for this is it allows you to play the game one handed, which is not only a great test of coordination (since many of us will have to fight hard against our gaming muscle memory), but also a necessity, as in all of Fru’s stages, your body will act as the catalyst that allows the little girl to advance.

You see, your silhouette—as detected by the Kinect—will activate switches, reveal hidden platforms and collectibles, block hazards, and even at times serve as a pool of water the girl can swim through. Each of the game’s four chapters adds more complexity to your responsibilities as the girl’s shadowy guardian, which also adds to the fun. In many instances, I found myself contorting in ways I didn’t know I could to help the girl advance. Whether literally rolling on the floor to adjust my position, arching my back to cut a wall in half and create makeshift stairs, doing squats to hit multiple switches at once, or even (almost) doing splits to fill up most of the bottom of the screen, I was ready to do whatever it took to create the perfect position for each puzzle. And as gimmicky as it may seem on the surface, I was hooked, not to mention impressed by the amount of depth Through Games was able to concoct to never make any of the game’s 110 stages feel cookie cutter or boring.

Unfortunately, what might be Fru’s fatal flaw is that it won’t last longer than a few hours for most players, even with all those aforementioned stages. Once you get past the ingenious interaction with the Kinect and solve all the puzzles, there’s really little reason to come back to Fru—a problem that hurts puzzle-platformers that already aren’t fighting the Kinect stigma.

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There are 24 collectibles scattered in the game, which do up the difficulty a tad, but I was able to collect them all on my first run through. There’s also a bonus mode that was spawned out of Fru’s tech demo, which offers a two-player option. Giving a friend a chance to play side-by-side with you is nice, but the mode is really only a short offering due to the tech demo nature, and not nearly as deep or as polished as the main game.

I did find some replayability in the game when showing it to friends at least. If it was fun rolling around trying to solve the puzzles by myself, it was just as entertaining to watch someone else do it. We even passed the control around to others, offering up some unintentional multiplayer and impromptu teamwork as one player would pose while the other would use the controller to guide the girl across the screen. It still remained a short affair, however, thus torpedoing its party-game possibilities as well.

Even with its lack of depth, Fru succeeds in showing us that the Kinect may have never reached its full potential. The puzzle-platform genre adapted for the device worked well, adding a pleasant surprise to the lineup of dance, music, and workout games that seemed to work the best with the peripheral. The sad fact of the matter is that Fru still has a couple of issues, and as fun as it is, it’s not something that can lift the Kinect back up to a state of relevancy. If you have a Kinect, Fru is a good way to get a couple more hours out of it. Otherwise, we all can just lament over what could’ve been.

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Developer: Through Games • Publisher: Through Games • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 07.13.16
7.0
It’s sad that Fru came out so long after the Kinect was a viable gaming peripheral. Had it released closer to the Xbox One’s launch, we might’ve been able to laud it as a reason to own a Kinect. As is, it’s a solid little puzzle-platformer that might be worth a look if you haven’t packed your Kinect away—assuming you ever got one in the first place.
The Good Inventive take on the puzzle-platformer that keeps finding new ways to test you.
The Bad A little on the short side, and not much really in terms of story or replayability.
The Ugly This is the game the Kinect needed all along. It’s a shame it’s probably about two years too late.
Fru is a Xbox One exclusive (Kinect required). Review code was provided by Through Games for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

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Mech-Star Warrior

Whenever I think that HAL Laboratory and Nintendo are going to run out of fun gimmicks to wrap Kirby up in, they find a way to keep surprising me. Whether it’s as a pinball, a yarn creature, or riding a rainbow-painted path, part of the series’ charm has been how the gameplay always seems to be morphing into something fresh—much like Kirby himself when he copies an enemy’s ability—while still sticking to the pink puffball’s action-platforming core. The duo seem to have done it once again with Kirby’s latest outing for the 3DS, Kirby: Planet Robobot.

It’s another peaceful day on the planet Pop Star, with Kirby resting under a tree, King Dedede playing chess against a Waddle Dee, and Meta Knight patrolling the skies in the Halberd. The serenity of this scene is quickly shattered, however, when a mysterious UFO lands on the planet and begins terraforming Pop Star, transforming its inhabitants into mechanical monstrosities. Kirby immediately springs into action in order to get to the bottom of the appearance of these strange aliens and turn Pop Star back into the nature-loving home he knows.

At its core, Planet Robobot is much like any other mainline title in the series. Kirby must fight his way through a half-dozen levels, each broken into a handful of stages, and copy the abilities of the foes he comes across in order to solve puzzles, collect items, and bring the pain to the bosses he’ll face along the way. Along with that, there are several new elements that help Robobot stand out from its predecessors, and that add a lot to the game’s enjoyability.

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Any fan that has played Kirby games before will immediately pick up on the first of these changes, which is a brand new aesthetic. The terraforming plot point means exploring locations Kirby has never dealt with before, such as casinos, roadways, trains, pipeworks, and more. These also provide Robobot with an interesting contrast in its design, with the colorful, cartoony vibe we usually get from the series crossing with an urban, mechanized motif. Even old-school bosses take advantage of the theme, with the cyborg-like Clanky Woods serving as the hardest version of Whispy Woods we’ve seen yet.

The other major changes come on the gameplay side. Planet Robobot features four new powers for Kirby to wield: Jet, Poison, ESP, and Doctor. You can roast enemies in Jet’s afterburners, throw psychic energy around a room with ESP, bounce pill projectiles at enemies with Doctor, or surf on sludge with Poison to get through a level quicker. While each power has its moments in the game, I found ESP to be the most useful of the four—both because of its offensive strength against enemies, and its ability to help with puzzles by sending projectiles through walls to hit previously-inaccessible switches.

As nice as the new powers are, the biggest gameplay change, though, comes from the fact that Kirby now can pilot his own personal mechanized robot, which he acquires early in the game and utilizes on various stages. The mech not only affords Kirby super-strength that he can use to move large set pieces around each level (opening up new puzzle and platforming opportunities), but also allows for duplicating enemy abilities much like Kirby himself. Copying the flame ability, for instance, turns the mech’s arms into a pair of flamethrowers—great for lighting cannon fuses that can open up previously-inaccessible areas or toasting enemies.

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In some cases, the mech does more than just amplify Kirby’s abilities, too—it changes the very nature of the game. For example, the aforementioned Jet ability transforms the mech into a Gradius-like starship, providing some interesting side-scrolling shooter gameplay. Working in this stage variety provided a nice change of pace from the standard platforming that comprises much of the game, and had me switching powers at a far more frequent pace than when I normally play Kirby games, as I couldn’t wait to see how the mech would transform next.

As great an experience as this all provides, Planet Robobot does suffer from something that has plagued many Nintendo games in recent years: a lack of challenge. Life-hoarding became a game within the game for me, as I never died more than a couple times throughout my playthrough. HAL Laboratory tried to bump up the difficulty by adding three keys to each stage for you to collect—with you needing a certain number of said keys to unlock each boss—but aside from one or two stages, I never had an issue with collecting them all on the first go.

Lack of challenge aside, Kirby: Planet Robobot does a great job of continuing the tradition of what the best Kirby games do: provide a fun adventure that captures your imagination. The difficulty may not have been high, but it’s still a top-quality, tight-handling platformer that I couldn’t help but enjoy for the short time it lasted—and which I didn’t want to put down until I’d seen every power, solved every puzzle, and brought peace back to Pop Star. The new mech gimmick was a delight to mess around with, and in the end, Planet Robobot’s few new features paid massive dividends that any Kirby enthusiast should love to play.

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Developer: HAL Laboratory • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 06.10.16
9.0
It’s probably one of the pink puffball’s shorter adventures, but the new mech gimmick provides a fun and fresh take on Kirby’s action-platforming core that I couldn’t get enough of.
The Good New mech adds a surprising amount of depth and variety to the classic Kirby gameplay.
The Bad No sense of challenge whatsoever.
The Ugly All of Pop Star and its inhabitants becoming mechanized reminded me an awful lot of Sonic the Hedgehog.
Kirby: Planet Robobot is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review. EGM reviews games on a scale of 1 to 10, with a 5.0 being average.

A dose of déjà vu

Like many gamers my age, I grew up with a bevy of great and quirky titles developed by Rare. What I didn’t realize until I sat down with Rare Replay—a celebratory compilation of 30 games developed by the company since its inception in the mid-80s—though, was how much they grew up right alongside me. From thumb-numbing affairs like R.C. Pro-Am for the NES to more refined efforts for the Xbox 360 like Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts, Rare Replay is a magnificent showcase of one of gaming’s more beloved developers and how they’ve evolved over the years.

At its core, something like Rare Replay is admittedly nostalgia driven. While reviewing the collection, hours flew by in the blink of an eye as I rediscovered titles like Cobra Triangle (my personal first Rare game from 1989) and Battletoads. And in many cases, the games played just as well now as they did back in the day, with muscle memory taking over after only a few moments—which wasn’t really all that hard considering I only had to remember two buttons usually.

Rare Replay even touts an awesome “behind-the-scenes” series of never-before-seen interviews and features that are unlocked the more you play. These fun “Rare Revealed” unlockables give you insight into your favorite titles and how they came to be, and why certain creative decisions were made—like how Conker became the foul-mouthed squirrel we now know and love, or what the genesis of Battletoads really was.

Of course, even while being swept up in the memories of my childhood and teens, it quickly became evident that not every game in the compilation stood the test of time. My rose-colored glasses cracked a bit in particular when playing Killer Instinct Gold or Snake Rattle ‘n’ Roll, but that’s also to be expected to a degree when covering such a large swath of gaming history.

Where Rare Replay shines brightest, however, isn’t just in how it lets you take a stroll down memory lane. Since it’s unlikely most people have played every title in this compilation, the best moments are really when you discover a game you might’ve missed the first time around. Suddenly, you have another favorite in your gaming library, even if it’s coming from a game older than you are. In my case, that game was 1983’s Jetpac—technically developed by Rare’s eventual founders Tim and Chris Stamper and not the studio itself—that kicks off the collection with some classic early-80s arcade action.

Now, it would’ve been easy enough for Rare to just pull these games together and call it a day, but Rare Replay tries to offer up a slice of originality, too, in the form of the game’s “Snapshots.” All of Rare’s older titles come with five Snapshots—mini-challenges from a specific slice of each game—that will put a player’s skills to the test. Whether it’s defeating a boss without losing a life, earning a high score in less than a minute, or cumulatively playing a game for a certain amount of time over your career, the Snapshots try to offer up something new to pull you back into the NES era if you need some prompting.

While an interesting idea, I would’ve loved for Snapshots to be more varied. You’ll always have a cumulative one, a high score one, a combat challenge, and then maybe a couple that are more specific towards the given game. The most curious decision with Snapshots comes from the fact that not every game has them, though, and they stop altogether once you reach the N64 generation of Rare’s library. If Rare was going to try to implement something new, they should’ve done so uniformly throughout Rare Replay.

And the same goes for a special “Replay” feature in those older games. Similar to the “Rewind” option you see in games like Forza, by pressing the LT button you can actually replay the last few seconds of your game to avoid losing a life and keep going for that high score. A novel idea—even if it somewhat defeats the purpose of those older arcade games—but it’s only available in the older Rare titles.

As fun and as nostalgia-driven as this collection may be, Rare Replay is actually about a lot more than just Rare’s history. A more subtle benefit of the collection may be how it helps pave the way for the highly anticipated backwards compatibility for Xbox One. While you’re downloading and installing the bulk of the collection, separate downloads then start for games that were on the Xbox 360 like Banjo-Kazooie, Perfect Dark Zero, Kameo: Elements of Power, and more. It ends up being nine separate Xbox 360 downloads, plus the Rare Replay collection of the remaining 21 games for 10 downloads total.

The one downside to this is, for the time being, you can only access the Xbox 360 games via Rare Replay, which acts as a sort of emulator launcher—even though each game takes up space separately on your hard drive (close to 50GB for all 10 downloads). That’s supposed to change when backwards compatibility fully comes to Xbox One sometime this fall, and in the meantime, if there are Xbox 360 games you don’t want, you can delete them apart from the main collection. At the very least, the transition between Xbox One and Xbox 360 is quick and relatively smooth after the first time you try it, and by simply holding the menu button, you can switch back to Rare Replay and the Xbox One whenever you want.

Rare Replay is a tremendous collection of great games that show how integral Rare has been to game development for the past 30 years. It may not offer up a lot that’s new gaming-wise, and it may lack some of the company’s biggest hits due to licensing issues (most notably Goldeneye 007 and the Donkey Kong Country series), but there’s plenty here that should still be celebrated. If you’re a Rare fan, there’s no better way to do so than with this compilation.

Developer: Rare Ltd. • Publisher: Microsoft • ESRB: E – Everyone to M – Mature (varies by game) • Release Date: 08.04.15
8.0
A great collection of classic games. Whether you’ve been a fan of Rare for three years or for thirty, there’s something here for everyone, with plenty of gems waiting to be discovered for the first time.
The Good Whether a Rare game junkie or a relative newcomer to their brand, everyone should find something to enjoy.
The Bad Snapshots don’t provide a lot of variety and aren’t available for all titles. Not every game stands the test of time.
The Ugly Even after nearly 25 years, I still can’t beat the Clinger-Winger stage in Battletoads. Damn you, Hypno-Ball!
Rare Replay is a Xbox One exclusive. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review.

Just the two of us

When I first saw Kalimba at last year’s Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, it was still called Project Totem, but what started out as a quirky side project meant to entertain guests at the Press Play holiday party a few years back quickly intrigued me with its potential as a full-blown puzzle-platformer.

I’ve always had a penchant for this genre, with friends from college still referring to me as an idiot savant when it comes to effortlessly working my way through any number of twisting, trap-filled corridors. But Kalimba is novel in that you’re never controlling just one protagonist, but two—and the duo must work together in myriad ways in order to progress.

On the surface, even with the duality twist, the game seems simple enough. You find yourself on a tropical island named Kalimba, which has been protected for generations by the magic of a totem pole. An evil shaman appears one day, however, and shatters the monument, looking to cloak the island in his unique brand of dark magic. The totem pole’s guardian realizes that she can control remnants of the old pole, two pieces at a time, in the hopes of building a bigger, more elaborate magical ward. Taking control of these pieces is where players step in. With guidance from an aloof talking pink bear named Hoebear, players must work their way through 24 levels, collecting intricate wooden carvings on the way to sealing the dark shaman away forever.

The most impressive thing about Kalimba is how smoothly the difficulty scales. You start off with minimal obstacles to demonstrate how the two characters work in unison, but the action ramps up. You’ll begin by just pressing the A button to jump, but you’ll eventually swap your characters back and forth, acquire special amulets that let one of your totems walk on the ceiling or change their size, and even obtain the power of limited flight.

Even with all these new mechanics building on top of each other as the game progressed, I never felt the challenge was too much to handle. That’s partly because some levels include themed minigames based around your new powers, which give you the chance to perfect your new skills before continuing on. Not once did I feel frustrated by a puzzle—instead, I welcomed each new one with glee, and even the handful of times I had to resort to trial-and-error, the checkpoint system was generous enough that I never found myself having to replay huge sections to get back to where I’d initially gotten stuck.

The levels also feel distinct enough that there’s never any sort of repetition. Each puzzle is carefully crafted to push you to explore new ways to use the increasing range of your abilities—and this makes each successful solution all the more satisfying.

What’s more, the simple-yet-colorful art design ensures there aren’t any unnecessary distractions to take you away from the task at hand—which I appreciated, since the puzzles only get more intricate in the game’s limited local co-op mode. While this option only consists of eight levels, having four totems bouncing around the screen (with each player controlling two) requires some intense teamwork and concentration.

These level designs also succeed because of the tight controls. It wouldn’t be much of a puzzle-platformer if they stunk, but there’s a precision here that veterans of the genre can appreciate. All the jumps (particularly in the later levels, once it becomes ingrained how far your little totem avatars can go) are spaced out just perfectly, and the obstacles are set up just right so that you can make some impressive runs through each course as you start to master them.

Kalimba’s primary fault is its length—or lack thereof. Between co-op and single-player, the game offers 32 levels in total. Yes, some of the charm in a game like this lies in mastering the levels, collecting every item, or performing a speedrun courtesy of an always-running clock, but it shouldn’t take players more than three hours to get through that initial playthrough, and then it’s diminishing returns after that.

Some extra options do enhance the replayability—like “Old Skool” mode, which places you at the start at the first level with three lives, and from there, you must get through the whole game in one sitting. But again, I can’t imagine Kalimba continually drawing players back again and again, because once you solve the puzzles, it’s much easier to replicate your results the second and third time through.

When a game leaves you simply asking for more, though, it’s hard to be too disappointed. What Kalimba lacks in substance, it more than makes up for in style. With inventive puzzles, tight controls, and colorful worlds, there’s more than enough to keep those twitch reflexes sharp, and Kalimba should prove to be plenty of fun for gamers looking to put their puzzle-platforming skills to the test.

Developer: Press Play • Publisher: Microsoft • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 12.17.14
9.0
I only wish Kalimba were a bit longer, because its inventive puzzles, charming art style, and tight controls equal a winning combination for this quaint puzzle-platformer.
The Good Inventive, fun twist on the puzzle-platformer; the challenge steadily ramps up; excellent co-op mode.
The Bad A very short experience.
The Ugly Hoebear making fun of me for Achievement hunting. That hurts, dude.
Kalimba is a Xbox One exclusive. Review code was provided by Microsoft for the benefit of this review.

A monster mash

With all the power of PCs and new-gen hardware, it’s easy to get lost in the allure of modern amenities when it comes to videogames. But what really matters, and what keeps us coming back for more, has always been the gameplay itself. So, for me, it’s always a joy when someone decides to buck the trend and bring us a 2D platformer, hearkening back to a genre that served as a cornerstone of the industry for so long. The latest title that wants to remind us of the importance of substance over style? An indie game called Blood of the Werewolf.

Selena is one of the last living werewolves in existence. She and her husband have done their best to hide their bestial natures from the world around them and raise their son, the last hope for the werewolves, in seclusion. Some friends from the old country named Dracula and Dr. Frankenstein aren’t too keen on that idea, however, and they slay Selena’s husband when she’s not home and kidnap their child. Unfortunately for them, they decided to do this on the night of the full moon. Unleashing the monster within, Selena’s now in a race against time to get her son back and taste vengeance for her slain husband.

After playing through only a couple of levels as Selena, you’ll immediately flash back to the “good old days” of platforming where each stage is chock-full of pummeling pistons, crumbling shelves, and some purposefully placed bad guys as you work your way through the game’s 10 stages and five boss fights in the form of classic monsters Mr. Hyde, Dracula, the Creature from the Black Lagoon, the Mummy, and Frankenstein’s Monster.

One instance in particular that screamed “old-school” for me was when I had to jump down a shaft that seemed to go on forever while automated pistons fired just above my head as I fell. If I adjusted the wrong way in mid-air, I was turned into a bloody paste. After what felt like several agonizing minutes (it was probably only a few seconds in reality), and a few heart (and body) crushing deaths later, I successfully made it to the bottom of the chasm and the end of the stage. However, Blood of the Werewolf does adjust a tad for modern audiences. While difficult traps like the one described above are present throughout, there’s no limit on lives, and generous checkpoints are scattered throughout each stage.

Coupled with the tight platforming is some solid action. Since Selena’s a werewolf, you’d be right in thinking she’d have all the powers of one—and then some. The twist here, though, is she can only use her wolf form when she’s directly touched by the moonlight. This means that for a lot of the game’s interior levels, Selena has to use other means, specifically a crossbow, to work her way closer to her lost son.

Each form has its own benefits. Selena’s attack range in human form reaches across the screen with the crossbow. She can also burn opponents when she unlocks fire arrows and when you consider many of her enemies are undead, fire can be a huge boon. Her werewolf form, however, has a double-jump, which has obvious benefits in a platformer. While the range of her claws is very limited, they can often kill most enemies in one hit.

Though I enjoyed the idea of not being in wolf form all the time and appreciate that both the crossbow and wolf forms can be upgraded by finding hidden relics scattered throughout each world, I wish I would’ve had a choice over whether or not I could enact the change in Selena, instead of having it dictated by the a level’s design or motif. The wolf is far more powerful than Selena’s human form—understandably so—and it made me miss those abilities when I was forced to remain as a human for long stretches of the game. A meter of some kind would’ve satisfied my longing for better balance between the two forms.

Speaking of better balance, the stages themselves can be brutally difficult at times, but that makes it feel invigorating when you finish each one. The boss battles, on the other hand, feel more like a break from the rest of the game instead of continuing the pulse-pounding action that builds up to the confrontation with these classic horror characters. Their patterns are easy to recognize and even easier to avoid. That’s a bit of a letdown, even if it’s fun to see each character was reimagined here.

Now, when this game was first released on PC last year, a major issue some folks had was the replayability. While the campaign’s enjoyable enough and lasts about six hours depending upon your skill level, there’s not a lot to bring you back to it. The Xbox 360 version (as well as an upgraded PC release) solves this issue with two additional gameplay options.

The first is Endless mode, which sees how far Selena can go in a single life as she takes on 100 different rooms not seen in the main game. Thankfully, your upgrades from the campaign carry over here, giving you a reason to go back to the story mode and find collectibles you might’ve missed the first time around. The second inclusion is Score Attack mode, which features a timer that counts down to test how fast you can work your way through each non-boss stage, earning points and extra seconds for collecting items and killing enemies. Plus, each mode has a global leaderboard, to help appeal to your competitive side.

Blood of the Werewolf exudes a vintage charm that cannot be denied. With its spot-on controls and interesting premise, there’s more than enough content here to warrant the cheap price of $6.99 on XBLA. Because of this, it begs gamers to test their skills and see just how much they can get done before the full moon sets and the sun rises.

Developer: Scientifically Proven • Publisher: Midnight City • ESRB: T – Teen • Release Date: 06.11.14
8.0
Blood of the Werewolf is a solid 2D platformer that hearkens back to a bygone era. Tight controls and decent action make up for somewhat bland aesthetics, while the extra modes seen in this version offer more than enough replayability to garner a look from most gamers.
The Good Crisp platforming and tight controls reminiscent of classics in the genre.
The Bad Needs better balance between wolf form and human form; boss battles are a breeze compared to the levels.
The Ugly How many bodies did Dr. Frankenstein dig up to make a 50-feet-tall monster?
Blood of the Werewolf is available on Xbox 360 and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360. Review code was provided by Midnight City for the benefit of this review.

Kirby and the Beanstalk

Someone at Nintendo sure loves Kirby. Ever since the Pink Puffball first debuted back in 1992 on the original Game Boy (he was white back then because of the system’s limited color palette), if we count collections and spin-offs, the most recognizable figure on Popstar has had 23 games starring him come out over the past 22 years. But what’s even more amazing is that people haven’t gotten tired of him. I believe a large part of this is because the Kirby series always finds a way to make the simple characters shine, and the core gameplay mechanics of sucking up enemies and stealing their powers feel fresh and new each time. Kirby: Triple Deluxe, his 3DS debut, is no different.

Triple Deluxe begins with Kirby resting peacefully at his Dream Land home, when all of a sudden a giant beanstalk (appropriately called the Dreamstalk) erupts from the ground, lifting Kirby’s home and Castle Dedede into the night sky. Assuming King Dedede is up to some new mischief, Kirby floats over to the castle. When he arrives, though, he is shocked by the sight of unconscious Waddle Dees scattered about the place and a new foe, a spider named Taranza, carting King Dedede away in a magical web. Putting past transgressions aside, Kirby knows he has to save King Dedede and stop Taranza.

On the surface, Kirby still has his same classic powers of sucking up enemies and copying some of their abilities. To help him quell this new threat, however, he has several new hats to wear as a result of his copying prowess. Archer allows Kirby to fire arrows in a 360-degree arc; Bell gives Kirby the ability to use a pair of bells as blunt objects as well as to stun enemies with soundwaves; Beetle sees Kirby impale and throw enemies around with a special rhinoceros beetle horn; And Circus has Kirby turn into a clown who can throw flaming bowling pins or balance on a ball to roll over enemies with. The new powers are a lot of fun—and very useful in several situations—but they don’t hold a candle to the single most powerful new skill Kirby can acquire: the Hypernova.

By eating a Miracle Seed, Kirby will gleam like a rainbow in Hypernova form, giving him the ability to eat massive objects in one swallow. From mini-bosses to obstacles like fallen trees, nothing is too big for Kirby to gulp down. The Hypernova form allows Kirby to literally change the terrain around him to fit his needs while continuing on his adventure. This new ability is so powerful, though, Kirby can only use it for the rest of the stage he is on and not carry it with him like his other copy abilities.

Along with these new powers, the 3DS affords Kirby some new gameplay mechanics, especially when it comes to puzzle solving. Taking advantage of the system’s gyroscope, you can manually aim rocket launchers and cannons to destroy enemies and blocked pathways, or slide specially marked blocks around to help Kirby get past traps and the like.

The 3D feature is also a huge boon for Triple Deluxe; Not only does the game look great, with bright pigments punctuating each landscape, but also the 3D is subtle enough most of the time as to not be a distraction. Meanwhile, several puzzles take advantage of the depth of field the 3D provides to create hurdles Kirby has never really had to deal with before. So, by utilizing some 3DS hardware features (and not shoving them down our throats to feel “gimmicky”) and combining them with the classic platforming action the Kirby franchise is known for, Triple Deluxe provides a huge variety of unique challenges for Kirby to tackle.

For all the new things that this game added, there are also a lot of nice little nods to Kirby’s history, scratching that nostalgia itch older fans of the series may have. Not only are there 20 old-school copy abilities this time around—like Wheel and Needle—but also a lot of the bosses are takes on some of Kirby’s most iconic foes. From the return of Kracko to Flowery Woods (a larger, more difficult take on Whispy Woods), many of the bosses, and even a couple of the stages, are nothing but direct nods to what’s come before in the series.

If that’s not enough for you, there is also a new “Keychain” system. In the single player game, you can collect keychains that represent special scenes or characters from Kirby’s entire 22-year history in games. They don’t do anything in particular, but they’re nice to have. If you don’t want to spend time searching for them in the campaign, you can also spend 3DS coins (three at a time) to receive a random pick, or trade unneeded keychains with other players via StreetPass (a great way to get rid of any duplicates).

Not everything is perfect in Dream Land, though. The Kirby games have never really been that difficult, and Triple Deluxe is no different. If it takes you more than eight hours to find every collectible (that isn’t a randomized keychain) and beat the story, I’d be shocked. Also, I never liked the resetting of your lives and powers every time you exit the game. I know, this is something that has gone on for a long time in the series, but it still bothers me as it makes star collecting and 1-ups completely pointless—simply by exiting the game, you’ll be back to having seven lives. I get that it’s one way to get around an issue many other Nintendo platformers run into—the stockpiling of lives—but why not make a game that’s a little harder then?

Of course, Triple Deluxe is named that for a reason: the single-player campaign is just one of three included modes. The first added game mode is Dedede’s Drum Dash, a music rhythm game that has you hit the A button in time with the music as you try to maneuver King Dedede across a bunch of giant bongos. Honestly, this was a bit of a throwaway experience, as neither the interface nor the music are all that good.

The second extra game, Kirby Fighters, is far better—and actually might serve as a nice warm-up to the Smash Bros. games coming later this year. Up to four players can battle it out in the arenas inspired by classic Kirby locales, using special attacks to whittle away opponent’s lifebars while trying to maintain their own by eating food. As a twist, you can select from all of the powers from the single-player campaign to customize your Kirby, opening up possible match-ups such as Ninja Kirby vs. Bell Kirby vs. Beam Kirby vs. Leaf Kirby. This mode is so deep, it even has a single-player arcade ladder system, where you can try to see how fast you can make your way through seven different matches.

In the end, Kirby: Triple Deluxe is another fine addition to the long line of stellar handheld games in the series. A couple of outdated practices and a forgettable mini-game were not enough to stop me from feeling immensely satisfied with my experience after polishing off the final boss. New powers and well-executed use of the 3DS’ peripheral features added just a bit of freshness to keep this old formula working well, giving the Pink Puffball yet another successful debut on another Nintendo console.

Developer: HAL Laboratory, Inc. • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 05.02.14
9.0
Kirby’s debut on the 3DS could not have been better as new powers and puzzles complement classic Kirby gameplay to provide an experience both fresh and familiar to longtime fans.
The Good Inventive puzzles and new powers complement classic Kirby gameplay.
The Bad The resetting of lives and powers each time you exit the game; Dedede’s Drum Dash mini-game.
The Ugly The fact that the main bad guy is based off a spider, but only has six legs, bothers me a lot.
Kirby Triple Deluxe is a 3DS exclusive. Review code was provided by Nintendo for the benefit of this review.

The C stands for charming

Constant C, a puzzle-platformer where players take control of an intrepid robot trying to right science gone wrong, immediately intrigued me when I first saw it at Tokyo Game Show last year. With a couple of simple button presses, gravity and time were mine to command, so the possibilities for countless physics-based puzzles instantly became evident. The only real question: Would the cute little bot’s platforming escapades have enough of a soul to motivate me through the dozens of stages in the final game?

The bot in questionknown as Rescue Robotis designed to activate if his space-station home ever succumbs to some calamityand, as is quickly relayed via the master AI system, it has. After experimenting with time travel and gravity manipulation, one of the scientists’ devices runs amok, enveloping the entire station in a stasis field that’s frozen everything in placeexcept you, thanks to inhibitors in your robo-parts that let you walk and jump around. So, it’s fallen to your metal shoulders to see if there’s a way to turn the field off and save the facility.

The biggest hook here is how you can interact with the immobile world. Starting off only able to pull nearby objects out of stasis, you can ride the momentum of boxes that froze while falling to get to another part of a stage. Alternatively, you can clear other boxes out of your path to open up exit doors. As the story progresses, more complex obstacles, such as lasers, moving platforms, and globes, all start to hinder your progress.

Later on, your powers increase and diversify, mirroring the smooth, upward flow of difficulty you’ll see over the dozens of stages set across six levels. These include the gravity skill mentioned earlier, which allows you to turn the world on its axis by either 90 or 180 degrees, and a second stasis-dampening field that allows multiple objects in motion at once. The expansion of your powerset also, unfortunately, opens up your playtime to potentially devolve into a comedy of errors. The gravity abilities allow Rescue Robot to use momentum to fling boxes around corners and into normally unreachable positions, which fast becomes a cornerstone of gameplay.

I found having the 90- and 180-degree rotational shifts relative to your position maddening at times, howeverI kept wishing that the buttons were instead assigned to specific walls in the room, and I’d often rotate myself the wrong way, thinking the leftmost wall was still X, even though now it had changed to B after my initial rotation. Yes, this is largely user error, since I kept slipping into a way of thinking that the game obviously wasn’t designed for. To do it the way I would’ve preferred would’ve required a different control scheme, possibly setting up all four directions to the D-pad or the second analog stick. Having to take a step out of the game, though, and methodically plan out my button presses instead of letting them flow naturally was a bit disappointing.

The second stasis-dampening field also comes with problems, but these are clearly on the technical side. Rescue Robot’s presence brings objects into and out of stasis at an ever-quickening rate, and the later levels require more precise timing and movements. As a result, the use of the second stasis field would often culminate in some screen tearing and lag, and it would occasionally lead to frustrating deaths for reasons that weren’t always clear.

The more I played Constant C, though, the more I forgave these shortcomings. Besides solving puzzles, you’re also encouraged to collect special data tubes. Not only do these unlock later stages, but also they allow the master AI to “remember” security footage from before the accident, letting you see what led to the space station’s eventual downfall. These movies include a surprising amount of character development by showing you the fates of your creators and provide an unexpectedly delightful, compelling backstory.

The data tubes also serve another purpose, though. Some levels are simple and straightforward, tempting you to just press on and let the station’s secrets remain undiscovered because the data tubes are tucked away behind near-impregnable defenses that truly push your reflexes. It’s here, in the optional objectives, where the overall difficulty can spike. You could probably rush through the game in about four hours, but if you want to collect all the tubes and have a more fleshed-out and enjoyable story, you’re looking at easily twice as long. If you’re a completionist like me with a penchant for punishment, however, you won’t be satisfied until you collect every last one. Plus, it always felt rewarding when I figured the puzzles out, and the process never felt daunting.

Of course, once you beat the game and collect all the data tubes, there’s not much in the way of replayability. But considering the 100-plus puzzles that push your skills with a controller, charming story, and interesting mechanics, Constant C shows—much like its plucky protagonist—that it has more than enough to overcome its shortcomings.

Developer: International Games System, 5pb • Publisher: Mages, 5pb • ESRB: E10+ • Release Date: 03.12.2014
8.5
Some minor bugs and a lack of replayability can’t hold back Constant C, a puzzle-platformer full of memorable conundrums and surprisingly charming characters.
The Good Inventive puzzles; delightful characters.
The Bad Lack of replayability; controls take some getting used to.
The Ugly Realizing how much time you spent struggling to get those last couple of data tubes.
Constant C is available on Xbox 360 and PC. Primary version reviewed was for Xbox 360. Review code was provided for the benefit of this review.

This is why dinosaurs are extinct

For many gamers who grew up in the SNES era, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island was nothing short of extraordinary. Not only did the game look and play great, but no one would’ve figured that playing babysitter with Yoshi—a character himself just introduced in Super Mario World­—would be as charming or as addictive as it was. Since then, we’ve visited Yoshi’s Island a couple more times, but those subsequent sequels and spin-offs never quite lived up to that original outing that featured Baby Mario.

Nintendo never stops trying to improve on past iterations, however, so they brought in Takashi Tezuka—the original Yoshi’s Island creative director—to find a way to finally top his 1995 surprise hit. So, with the help of relatively new developer Arzest, Tezuka, now in a producer role, presents Yoshi’s New Island. But you can’t recapture the magic of Yoshi’s Island without the proper team in place, from top to bottom.

Chronologically, Yoshi’s New Island picks up immediately after Super Mario World 2. That dumb stork that let Baby Luigi get kidnapped in the first game realizes that he delivered the Mario Bros. to the wrong house. Taking flight, bundles in beak, the stork begins to search for the Bros.’ proper parents. Kamek, Baby Bowser’s caregiver and head Magikoopa, sees another opportunity to kidnap the twins. He again snatches Baby Luigi, and again lets Baby Mario slip through his fingers and fall to an island below. Luckily for Baby Mario, this happens to be the Yoshis’ second island—their summer home (kind of like those jackasses from my home state of New Jersey who vacation on Long Island). The Yoshis snatch up the future plumber and quickly realize they must unite the twins, no matter the cost.

At the very least, most of the elements you’d expect to be quality in a Nintendo game shine through here. The music’s great—I found myself sitting on the title screen while writing this review simply because I found the theme song that enjoyable. The game also looks very nice, providing the bright colors and stark contrasts that make enemies and allies alike really pop off the screen with the series’ trademark coloring-book art style. If only the same could be said of the 3D effect, which doesn’t do all that much to the world except provide a little roundness to Yoshi and some of the enemies.

Yoshi’s New Island also controls nicely, and Yoshi can use all the same moves from previous games like his stutter-step float and chowing down on enemies to turn them into eggs. He also gets some new moves that provide a little variety compared to the original game, such as making giant eggs out of giant Shy Guys to destroy the environment, or making giant metal eggs out of—you guessed it—giant metal Shy Guys to help him sink to the ocean floor.

As a fan of Super Mario World 2, I really wanted the game to reinvigorate this spin-off series. Instead, Yoshi’s New Island falls far short of its ambition. On paper, it’s as long—and features as much replayability—as the original. Six worlds, each with eight stages, and each with a bevy of collectibles in the form of stars, red coins, and flowers, could keep completionists busy for hours on end. Here, though, the stages are far shorter than in the original Yoshi’s Island, and I completed the game, with most items found, in fewer than 10 hours. This lack of depth in each stage meant I felt no joy of discovery when I came across a new warp pipe or hidden crevasse, no sense of accomplishment when I found every item on a stage. It all just felt like a cheap—and far easier—rehash of the original.

How easy, you ask? This is possibly the easiest Nintendo game I’ve ever played, and I died only a little more than a dozen times. And that’s after I killed myself several times stupidly in the last few stages because I’d become so disenchanted with the entire experience. Before this game, I don’t remember any Mario game feeling like a grind, no matter how simple it may have been at its core. Here, I found myself running into enemies a few times and letting Baby Mario cry until the timer ran down to zero, just to punish the little brat. That incessant whine served doubly as a personal torture for the fact that I ever got my hopes up in the first place.

While on the subject of torture, the game also features a multiplayer. At first, the six minigames (each unlocked after beating a world), sound like they could be a positive element if they proved worthwhile. Instead, they’re the biggest facepalm moment of all (as EGM’s Andrew Fitch can probably attest to, since he helped me test them out). Instead of versus minigames, they’re all co-op-oriented, so you’re just trying to work with a buddy to beat your own high scores over and over again. How sweet and innocent and not at all what I want from a multiplayer minigame. Could it have been that bad for the two players to face off against one another in competitive enemy-eating, coin-collecting, or balloon-popping?

Even the things Yoshi’s New Island gets right feel watered down compared to the original. I loved the boss battles from the first Yoshi’s Island.  I remember Burt the Bashful, Salvo the Slime, and Naval Piranha like it was yesterday. And while the bosses start off well here, they fall into simple patterns and die in a predictable three-hit fashion, which most of the original Yoshi’s Island bosses never did. Three hits to kill not just the first boss, but every boss, just seems so antiquated now, and it’s shocking games so often still adhere to that rule.

The Yoshi transformations remain a lot of fun but falter for different reasons. Like before, our tongue-happy dinosaur pal can become a helicopter and a submarine, but he can now also change into a bobsled, a jackhammer, a mine cart, or a hot-air balloon. But even this is spoiled by the fact that you’re forced to use the 3DS’ gyroscope to control Yoshi through the special sections, making what could’ve been a saving grace clunky and awkward instead.

You can’t blame Nintendo for trying to capitalize on a character that clearly holds a special place in many gamers’ hearts. In retreading ground most of their audience will be familiar with—and doing it less successfully this time around—it just seems they went about it the wrong way. As a platformer, Yoshi’s New Island works fine, but it’s definitely not up to Nintendo’s usually stellar standards.

Developer: Arzest • Publisher: Nintendo • ESRB: E – Everyone • Release Date: 03.14.2014
6.0
It may say “new” in the title, but there’s simply not enough to get excited about in Yoshi’s New Island. Fans of the original will probably be turned off by this inferior and all-too-familiar retread.
The Good Fun boss battles; new eggs and transformations for Yoshi.
The Bad Relies too heavily on nostalgia to cover up gameplay deficiencies.
The Ugly The return of the most annoying sound in videogames: Baby Mario’s crying.
Yoshi’s New Island is a Nintendo 3DS exclusive and was reviewed using a retail code provided by Nintendo.