After the faithful but inconsistent first episode of Sonic the Hedgehog 4, Sonic Colours is a welcome surprise: a fresh-faced 3D Sonic with great looks and breezy action. A handful of flashy new abilities are tossed into the mix, but they don't undermine the essential Sonic formula of bot bopping, ring grabbing, and high-speed platforming. It's not without occasional niggles, but Sonic Colours exhilarates much more often than it frustrates, making it a commendable new entry in a sometimes shaky franchise.
Sonic's new adventure is oh so sweet.
The game takes place in a giant orbital theme park supposedly built by Dr. Robotnik (Dr. Eggman, if you insist) as an interstellar apology for all of his evil deeds. Of course, it turns out that the park is really an instrument for further evil deeds, with Eggman imprisoning its unsuspecting alien visitors, called wisps. And, of course, Sonic and Tails are there to thwart him. The premise of Sonic blasting through the park, liberating wisps as he goes, is all that's needed, but some self-aware winks to the audience nudge the story from perfunctory to likeable. After bragging about how he can't be stopped, Eggman insists, "I know I say that every time, but, really, this time nothing will stop me." ("Who are you calling nothing?" sasses Sonic, ably voiced by Roger Craig "Chris Redfield" Smith.)
The scene is set with six themed worlds, among them the mouth-watering Sweet Mountain, with donut loop-the-loops, and Aquarium Park, a mash-up of an oceanarium and Japanese garden that is patrolled by samurai robots. The levels pop with creativity and colour; their artful designs--beautifully executed--rank the visuals among the best on the Wii. A few aesthetic cues are lifted from Super Mario Galaxy--in the space-themed Asteroid Coaster zone, you even run briefly over the spherical surface of a planetoid between speed-boost strips. In close-up view, Sonic's animations are suitably lively, but you only get a good look at him in cutscenes and while limbering up at the start of levels; much of the time, the camera pulls far back to show you more of the path ahead.
The action segues from platforming in both 3D and side-scrolling pseudo 2D to rail grinding and racing along with the camera at Sonic's back, with the odd bit of skydiving to boot. There's plenty of variety within and between levels, even without the novelty of wisps. These wisps are the colours for which the game is named; when you set them free, wisps confer on Sonic a special ability according to their colours. These abilities include a blimplike flying form, a sharklike berserker form, a rocket form that blasts you high above the level, and a wall-walking pink spike-ball form. As novelties, the wisp powers are amusing enough but still not as much fun as Sonic's essential repertoire of speed boost, double jump, and ground stomp. The levels are engineered to encourage their use, and bonus points are awarded for doing so, but the temptation is to rely on the basic platforming where they aren't required.
Although the Classic Controller is an option, the controls for a remote and nunchuk feel best, with the nunchuk's analog stick used for movement and the remote used for jumping and making speed boosts. Motion control is limited to shaking the remote to activate wisp powers. The scheme makes for movement control that is fluid and intuitive, though imperfect; it's a little too easy for momentum to carry you off the edge of a narrow platform, for instance, and some of the less common platforming devices are on the finicky side. The former, combined with the liberal use of instant death drops in most levels, can make for some frustrating holdups, particularly where a checkpoint hasn't been sensibly deployed nearby. At its best, though, Sonic Colours has you sprinting, spinning, and dodging death as blissfully fast as a Sonic game should, with boost strips, bounce pads, and the retractable grapplelike homing attack flinging you around the level at high speed.
Even speedy heroes make time for a leisurely strut.
The inclusion of familiar, classic Sonic sound effects is welcome, and the music provides jazzy, high-energy backing to complement the speed and sparkle of the themed zones. The variety and creativity of those zones are only really let down by the sameness of the boss fights at the end of each. Two-person cooperative play is included as an extra zone, Game Land, presented as an arcade cabinet titled Eggman's Sonic Simulator. It's a bonus addition rather than a key feature and never as much fun as the game proper. By comparison, the levels are plain ugly, and the co-op system is merely passable. It's too easy to bounce off of each other's heads, producing a stun effect, and there's no checkpoint respawn--once one player has expended his or her few lives, the other is left to soldier on alone. If the gulf between player-skill levels is vast, there's at least an assist mode, temporarily transforming one of the pair into a hovering ball at the other's side, perhaps to let the latter navigate a tricky section.
You might finish all the levels (there are seven for each of the six main zones) in about 10 hours, but you're encouraged to improve your score and rank in each by collecting more rings, stars, and wisps, as well as improving your time and seeking out the alternative routes through the mostly linear levels. Even without the incentive of an improved score on the online leaderboards, though, it's worth revisiting zones in Sonic Colours just to admire the dazzling scenery at top speed. This is a Sonic game with verve and imagination, and Wii owners shouldn't miss an opportunity to play with Sonic at his best.
The original Scribblenauts presented an innovative, new concept: Think of nearly any object, type the word into your DS, and watch as it materializes to assist in solving a puzzle. The end result was a game with an interesting idea, but funky physics, jagged edges, and challenges that could usually be solved by typing "helicopter" kept the title from feeling like much more than a novelty. Thankfully, Super Scribblenauts addresses nearly every flaw from the first game and adds enough in the way of new features to finally live up to its potential.
You won't find a staggering new story premise within the 120 puzzles contained in Super Scribblenauts. Much like the first game, you lead cartoony protagonist Max through a series of levels with nothing more than the intent of capturing a shiny Starite in order to progress -- Unlike the first game, however, you won't get bored playing through them all. Super Scribblenauts manages to keep the puzzles engaging, with a few exceptions, thanks in no small part to its new feature: adjectives.
If you've played Scribblenauts before, you undoubtedly spent some portion of time just screwing around in the game's start menu. What other game allows you to finally answer the age-old question, "Could a zombie fight a brontosaurus?" Now, thanks to the power of descriptive language, it's possible to pit "crusty zombie Ben Franklin" versus a "floating robotic brontosaurus." Sure, creating weird, random freaks of nature is fun all on its own, but the feature really shines in the new adjective-specific puzzles. Adjective puzzles require you to complete a challenge while utilizing descriptive language. For instance, one such level has Max facing off against a monster-creating witch; her monsters can only be defeated by spawning an adversary that utilizes a directly opposite adjective, i.e. a tiny werewolf defeats a giant troll. I found these new adjective puzzles far more entertaining than the game's other levels, as they're efficient at forcing you to think more creatively in terms of your word choice.
That's not to say that the game's other levels are sub-par. Like the original, Super Scribblenauts' levels are split between "get Max to the Starite" platform-influenced action and finding a solution or combination of items that will make the Starite magically appear. But while they're similar in structure, the substance and mechanics of the puzzles feel greatly improved. The original Scribblenauts was plagued with what I call "jet pack syndrome." Basically, what's the point of going through an elaborate series of actions in order to solve a puzzle, when you can just strap on a jet pack and be done with it? There are exceptions, but generally speaking, the puzzles in Super Scribblenauts will require more thought than attaching a rocket to Max's back. Even the occasional, exceptionally easy puzzle is usually offset by the difficulty of a returning "advanced mode," which becomes unlocked after a level's completion."
If a level proves too devious, however, Super Scribblenauts also includes a new hint system. Hints are acquired through purchase using the game's currency ("ollars"), or unlock after a set period of time has passed. Personally, I never found myself using the hints, but that's probably due more to my own stubbornness than a judgment on the game's difficulty. A number of the game's puzzles require some abstract thinking, so the inclusion of a hint system is a welcome addition if only to broaden the game's appeal to a much younger audience.
The game isn't completely without its flaws. Sprites are only marginally less jagged-looking than before, and occasionally words that should work just don't. This becomes particularly frustrating when the game is unnecessarily finicky with adjective selection. During one level in particular, I was completely baffled as to why the phrase "friendly doctor" was not satisfying the puzzle. As it turned out, the game was looking for a "smart doctor." Those issues are rare, however, and seem rather minor in light of the improvements 5th Cell has made with this sequel. Gone are the wonky physics (a mountain doesn't just roll over like a tumbleweed any longer), the awkward controls (you can use the d-pad to control Max), and weird object collision (items placed in the game seem to have a sense of depth now).
In the end, Super Scribblenauts is an interesting, engaging, witty game that takes full advantage of its portable platform's strengths. The Nintendo DS' game library is filled with titles that attempt to serve out entertainment in bite-sized chunks, but I dare say few have achieved this level of originality and enjoyment. It's not that Super Scribblenauts has completely reinvented the portable puzzle game, it just comes close to perfecting the franchise's own innovative take upon it.
Pokemon Blue is a unique mixture of Final Fantasy, Tamagotchi, and rock-paper-scissors gameplay with the collectible edge of Magic: The Gathering, Pokemon is an excellent RPG for players of all experience levels.
You lead a lone adventurer out on his Pokemon journey, a quest to become the champion of the Pokemon League. Before our hero can even enter the Pokemon League, he must win eight badges from the Pokemon gyms scattered around the world. Things are never quite that easy, however, as you will come toe-to-toe with the evil Team Rocket, in addition to a number of other predicaments, on your way to reach the gyms.
An RPG at heart, you scour the globe for Pokemon and capture them with Pokeballs. Once caught, Pokemon can then be added to your party and trained a la standard RPG characters. As they develop, the Pokemon will become stronger and learn new abilities. Many will evolve into a different Pokemon once they reach a certain level or if you use a special item on them. The game's variety and customization is virtually unlimited, making no two run-throughs of the game the same.
You can carry up to six Pokemon with you at a time. In battle, only one of the beasts may be deployed, but monsters can be swapped at any time. The strategy lies in selecting the right types of Pokemon for each battle - every Pokemon is classified as one of 15 different types of Pokemon, adding the rock-paper-scissors aspect: Fire Pokemon are weak against water attacks, flying Pokemon are strong against bug Pokemon, etc.
One of Pokemon's most unique and endearing aspects is its multiplayer nature. Pokemon can be traded or battled with friends via the link cable, adding tons of long-term play incentive. Additionally, those who buy only the Red or Blue versions of the game can't capture all 150 Pokemon without trading - each cart contains 139 Pokemon. As extra incentives, some Pokemon don't evolve unless traded, and traded Pokemon gain experience 50 percent faster than normal.
Under its cuddly exterior, Pokemon is a serious and unique RPG with lots of depth and excellent multiplayer extensions. As an RPG, the game is accessible enough for newcomers to the genre to enjoy, but it will entertain hard-core fans as well. It's easily one of the best Game Boy games to date.