Retro Review: Mario vs. Donkey Kong

3 05 2009

mdk1

Mario vs. Donkey Kong (Game Boy Advance)

Original release date: 05/24/04

Simple platformers have not withstood the test of time in today’s rampant world of cinema crammed role-playing games, competitive shooters, and batty innovative puzzlers. Once in a while the need to revisit a past series and style of play is vital to set a sense of equilibrium and to not forget what came first. Series such as the classic Donkey Kong for example, and his long time but inconsistent rival, Mario. Based on a remake of the 1994 version of Donkey Kong for the Game Boy, Mario vs. Donkey Kong is an attempt to recreate the traditional part platform, part puzzle classic, but fails doing just that. Adding too many new elements that have appeared in each icon’s own titles leave it a bit more unbalanced than it probably had originally planned. I guess you can have too much of a good thing.

Yet, I could not help but enjoy the quaint charm and memorable sounds that popped up now and then. Who doesn’t love that crazy hammer music from the original? Even the bizarre storyline managed to make me laugh on some occasions.

Pity this isn’t a comic flick.

Now picture if you will Donkey Kong sitting in his house minding his own business. Eating bananas and channel surfing like the couch potato that he is. When he manages to catch a gander on the Home Shopping Network about the new thing in town –- Mario dolls. When did Mario become such a publicist? Blotting out the fact that he and Mario are enemies, old Donkey Kong begins frenzying around his house in excitement over this new fad. He bursts out of the jungle and into the city where he steals every one of them from the factory. Mario finds out about this and is generally pissed because he knows this cannot be good for business. Thus commences your journey of cat and mouse through six worlds with eight stages in each one; overcoming traps, picking up items, and praying the stupid ape doesn’t break your damn toys.

The game-play is relatively simple to say the least. Make your way across traps and hazards while strutting those jumping skills to pick up items and solve puzzles along the way. The majority of which will have you flipping switches in the right order, picking up keys, and dodging the occasional enemy or threat. Rinse and repeat for the first six stages of each world and you will end up at stage seven, which involves leading the Mario dolls you secured into a box. This is where the game picks up a bit as the dolls break very easily, so multi-tasking staying alive, keeping each one safe, and solving every dubiety will become essential. Once you have that task quickly taken care of, Donkey Kong will come out of the shadows for a little revenge. Unfortunately the fights usually last no more than 5 minutes as it usually plays out like this: pick up item, throw item in his general direction, dodge his attacks, ad nauseam.

Props though for the notable implementation of a pseudo-3D graphical style and control setup — because of this addition Mario has a lot of moves beyond the normal walk and jump from his early titles. Back-flips, multiple jump combos, tight rope walking, and handstands are all added to his arsenal and each technique serves a different purpose whether it be for offensive or defensive purposes. So, flip up to the peak of that high structure to flip the switch, then handstand to avoid the falling barrels threatening to bust your head open.

Though the capital reason Mario vs. Donkey Kong fails to rise above its genre counterparts lies within its execution. The innovative approach brought on to complicate for the better is overshadowed by the general premise. To put it bluntly, the game is over too fast and the difficulty does not pick up in time to save it. Though the first few worlds will fly by and feel fresh and unique, this all starts to tumble by around World 4. Attempting to mask the repetition is shifting background visuals and music from stage to stage, but it still cannot hide the fact it is merely recycling content. After a couple hours pulling on that twenty-fourth lever and swiping that thirty-second key will just become pointless. Despite the numerous shortcomings, the game will reward you on how well your collective efforts payed off, if you manage to sustain the interest.

Alongside the basic collection items mentioned so far is the oh so original addition of stars. Nintendo just cannot seem to put out a Mario game without these things can they? They are sort of like the holy grail in each stage as stuffing enough of them in your pocket will help you unlock an expert mode which adds a slightly noticeable difference in difficulty. However, the game is honestly not worth another run through after the first completion and even then everything rounds out at about 10 hours tops. If you are a score freak like I used to be back in the arcades then the addition of that system may keep you on your feet a bit longer. Though one has to wonder the reason to hold a record if no one is there to challenge you.

Ah, solitude.

You never seem to realize how much you dislike a series till its best is thrown at you and still manages to disappoint. A plethora of ideas were all obviously strewn about, but the inability to realize the potential was the leading handicap going into this one. I personally never cared for the original Donkey Kong and twenty some odd years later it isn’t faring any better. Even the inclusion of Luigi and a co-operative feature might have given this mediocre title some life. Figures every time the green plumber is really needed he is nowhere to be found.

Conclusion? Mario vs. Donkey Kong is a short, flawed package with infrequent redeemable factors. Perhaps resurrected classics really have no place in the ever changing realm of gaming anymore.

Only time will tell.

Verdict – 4/10

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Retro Review: Wario World

28 04 2009

Now, for a while my retro reviews have been for solid games.  Today, I look at a game that didn’t quite measure up to that standard.  Oh, what am I talking about, it sucked.  Bask in the negativity as we delve into Wario World of the Gamecube.

wariworld

Wario World (Nintendo Gamecube)

Original release date: 06/23/03

Alas, there is someone who has always been in Mario’s glorious shadow and it is not his brother. No my friends, that spot belongs to the plumber’s unfortunate and obese rival, Wario. From the early days of his ventures on the Game Boy to his release on the Gamecube, the tubby gangster has always been a part of an incredibly simple and linear based game-play style. One such example would be the immortality that he possesses through most of his titles. However, Wario World ditches the “live forever” aspect, but in turn takes in another attribute; that all too familiar feeling of just plain sucking. It is quite a shame because I really wanted to like this game, but it let me down in every way imaginable.

In a land of gluttony and greed, poor Wario has lost his fortune due to a curse from a horrible black gem. The gem’s power has turned all of his gold into monsters and expelled him from his kingdom. It is up to this man, clad in purple and yellow, to simply take out the opposition, destroy the essence of the gem, and reclaim all of his treasure. From this generic aspect of story-telling, we are eventually lead to the main view of the game, which ends up being another platform-based collect-a-thon. Now, in your mind, picture the collective themes of Super Mario Sunshine, but factor in many more incredibly boring item themes and an inescapable repetitive nature. What made other percentage-based platform games a success was the free roaming exploration, which is unfortunately absent in Wario World. For encompassing this strange land is a set of 3D environments in a linear 2D side-scrolling fashion.

As soon as you begin the game, you will notice four worlds, with only one being accessible at the beginning. Within each of these worlds are three stages, each with their own treasures, puzzles, and bosses. Your main objective in each stage is to collect treasure, after treasure, after treasure, along the way having to fight incredibly stupid AI, and going through a series of mind-numbingly easy puzzle sequences. From tedious platform hoping to hitting switches a couple feet away from their resultant, it is quite obvious what age group Nintendo was aiming at. The difficulty of the game hardly ever improves and some of the later tasks could best be described as time consuming. Primarily because a large chunk of what you are collecting in this game is absolutely pointless and only goes toward getting a perfect score (which you will never have the desire to complete anyway.)

I can say one thing though; originality among adversaries was never a primary objective for the developers. In each level you will usually come across about two or three enemies and they are among the most intelligent devoid creatures I have ever seen. For example, in the first stage there are these small dinosaurs that will try to attack you by slashing. I ran up to and stood in front of this creature for a few seconds and then walked behind him. And to my astonishment, he was still winding up his fist for an attack in the direction I was previously standing. The enemies also appear extremely calcium deficient, as the majority will usually take one or two quick slugs each to drop.

The repetitiveness, however, comes from the usage of identical enemies in later levels. That’s right they are the same enemies with the same traits, but in order to make them seem different, they gave them each a graphic change. In world one, we have the slow witted lizard-like “magons,” and one level later the generically named “clowns.” Point is, they move exactly at the same rate, have the same attack patterns, and are taken down in the same amount of hits. You will go through the game constantly confronting characters who are practically the exact same thing as previous level foes and sadly there are very few of them.

Being plump has to have some advantages, eh? Well, old Wario certainly knows how to throw his weight around, as you have a couple of various moves to implement upon your dim-witted challengers. Using the B button will allow you to throw a couple of quick punches, while holding it will let you do a linebacker style charge. Meanwhile, the shoulder buttons will prove useful in ass-slamming your foes into the dirt. Moving Wario himself around is relatively simple and he controls well for the most part from stage to stage. The only thing that throws a wrench in the whole system is the previously mentioned 2D game-play in a 3D environment. You will constantly find yourself jumping incorrectly off cliffs and ledges and running right past your enemies. The loose controls and unmovable camera angles will definitely grate on your nerves after a while. To make matters worse, the unrelenting challenge of keeping the power of your Gamecube turned on, with this game in it, is the only difficulty to speak of.

Sad I know.

As said before, treasure hunting would be a lot of fun, if this world was expansive. Unfortunately with everything moving in a side scrolling environment, it is just a matter of time before you run into everything. Small sprites, regular treasure, coins (which you can use to buy lives and continues), and lastly red gems, sum up the available loot. Earning said gems will force you to take on “puzzle challenge” stages, which could have been something unique. Yet they pale in comparison to the challenge levels in similar platformers and require no more than the IQ of a hair dryer to complete. One mission actually required me to pull a lever and then jump up just three platforms to reach the item. Others required simple timing of hoping over slow moving obstacles. The sad thing is that even if you fail there is no consequence, but to jump back down and try again.

With the lack of effort put into the enemies, obstacles, and puzzles, the boss confrontations have to be worthwhile right? Well, yes and no. I did find the boss fights to be somewhat entertaining, but their premise is shallow as expected. After the first few attack exchanges you will know their pattern and proceed to wail on them, while confidently laughing at your full set of hearts.

To complement the rushed game-play, Nintendo decided to humor everyone with outdated visuals as well. Everything looks very bland and the textures on objects like bridges and trees look extremely muddy. The character designs are very generic and as said before are merely cosmetic to hide similar enemy patterns throughout levels. Hell, it looks as if they just copied and pasted character models and environments, did a color change, and called it something else. Practically every puzzle level looks the same and the majority of obstacles such as the spike-balls are used over extensively. All of this barely compares though to the look of the individual world entry levels in the main lobby. Notice the adequately cardboard cutout shaped design of the backgrounds and how they resonate in front of the motionless sky.

As terrible as this sounds, it is the very sound itself that remains one of the few positive features to Wario World. The game is filled with some catchy beats and the same thing applies to the boss music samples, however, both are short and repeat quite a bit too soon. The puzzle level samples are repetitive as well and offer nothing special to the already empty table. To top it off, Wario is terribly annoying and his fake Italian accent is enough to make you want to pull that little white plug out of your television’s audio socket.

Beneath all of the trash there is one feature included that is quite interesting and that is the Game Boy Advance compatibility. If you have an SP on hand, you can connect it with the system in order to transfer a sampling of WarioWare Inc. to it. The fun little mini-games here are humorous and interesting, but you are better off just picking up the full version. Quite sad when the only credible factor in a game comes from something that has nothing to do with it.

At the end of the day Wario World is as an empty serving that leaves you with nothing but high cholesterol. The most this game encompasses is about ten hours and that is if you can stomach the first few stages. With the simplistic graphics, repetitive game-play, and bogus challenge, it is obvious that the game was intended for young audiences. However, I would not recommend this pile of garbage to even the smallest adolescent out there. It is a shame that Wario’s first outing in his own advanced console game was such a poor one, resulting in being nothing more than a dusty old box in the corner of my drawer.

Verdict – 2/10