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Stating the bleedin’ obvious

Did you happen to catch Nintendo’s conference this week? In an online presentation to the world they proudly announced that the sky is blue, that snow is cold, and baby bunnies are one of the cutest things on earth.

In an additional round of stating the bleedin’ obvious, they revealed that they were developing Zelda, Mario, Mario Kart and Smash Bros. games for the Wii U. Who would have believed it?

Sarcasm aside, whilst this news is going to surprise no one, their need to tell us seems only to point to desperation. With no footage on show of any of those four titles, it served more as a reassurance to Nintendo die-hards that their needs will be serviced in time rather than a proud unveiling of upcoming products. Perhaps worried about the ever-rumoured next gen offerings from its rivals it felt the need to seed its E3 offering earlier than ever. Although with next to no details behind any of them they appear just to be courting headlines.

The disappointing aspect of this for me was that these rather vacuous announcements hid far more exciting titbits. Nothing to do with a Wind Waker remake, fresh looks at Wonderful 101, teasers for Bayonetta 2 and a proper reveal in the form of a new Yoshi game all piqued my interest. Plus offerings from Monolithsoft and other developers close to Nintendo.

Wonderful 101 (formerly Project P-100) appeared full of pizazz, seemingly mixing Pikmin, Earth Defence Force and Saturday morning cartoons; Bayonetta, though not showing any in-game footage, showed sass that is much needed on the platform; whilst Yoshi returns for his first home console outing for 15-years. And coming from the director of Yoshi’s Island and the team that brought us Kirby’s Epic Yarn it makes me smile at the very thought of what they’ll dream up. The snippet on show looked like they’d used a woollen Yoshi and stop-frame animation and looked gorgeous.

nintendodirect_yoshi

Of course, if you watch the whole presentation the Marios and Zeldas received very little air time, and yet merely dropping them in there seemed to do a disservice to games that did have footage or interviews. News such as this was obviously going to trump anything else but with no clips or release dates anywhere near them they seemed a cheap shot.

Half way through Iwata actually apologised for the lack of releases. Anyone with any previous experience of launches knows that developers work ridiculously hard to make a launch window, and if there’s any chance of doing so will burn the midnight oil to get their games out for that crucial period. As such, the next few months tend to be slightly barren, with those failing to make it out in time instead choosing to relax slightly and make their wares as polished and refined as possible.

Gamers expect that and what they should be shown are games available in the next few months, not years. In a barren period reassurance is what is needed that they’ve made the right choice. Whilst I in no way regret my Wii U, this Nintendo Direct does dent my confidence about it being a force in the short to medium term.

Birthday Honours

As with The Queen, I feel it my duty to recognise those that have impressed me over the last twelve months and so I welcome you to the second annual BIGsheep Birthday Honours.

For services to music: Rock Band 2

I used to think the solo guitar experience was exhilarating, making you feel like an instant rock star. However, as I have already stated this week there were few experiences last year better than playing in your own plastic band. This iteration on the series builds on its already strong core, whilst the drums and the copious amount of downloadable songs have been a revolution to me, revitalised my interest in this genre.

For services to the Capital Wasteland: Fallout 3

If there was one game in 2008 that I had to force myself to put down as I was in danger of forsaking all others, that game would be Fallout 3. Some may have found the desolate wasteland they were wandering through a chore, I regarded it as a mammoth game of hide and seek. Over each ridge or round the next canyon turn you never knew what you were going to find, from crashed UFOs to museums dedicated to fizzy drinks. The sheer scale of the game was inspiring.

For services against the undead: Left 4 Dead

Despite my original muted response towards Left 4 Dead, the zombie apocalypse has grown on me. It is a game where no story is needed, your goals are obvious and tight teamwork is rewarded. This simplicity is its strength with new players able to delve right in and get just as much from it as grizzled veterans.

For services to engineering: Banjo-Kazooie: Nuts & Bolts

Not only does it feature one Trophy Thomas, but also the ultimate Lego set. Once you reach a certain point in the game a light bulb flicks on inside your head and all sorts of crazy ideas begin churning out. To add to my trebuchet, Thundertank, Thunderbird 2 and Seaking, I’ve seen ferris wheels, walking robots, space shuttles and a myriad more creations that make you realise what a flexible toolset you have at your disposal.

For services to puzzlement: Professor Layton and the Curious Village

A delightful DS game that takes a different slant on point-and-click adventuring, combining some devious logic puzzles with a colourful brand of animation. The whole game oozes charm, from a village that is populated with those obsessed with testing your brain to Professor Layton’s nemesis who would prefer you out the way so he can presumably have all the puzzles to himself.

Honourable mentions

Whilst they may be my Top 5 games of the year, I do think a few others deserve the nod.

The continued presence of Halo and Rainbow Six: Vegas should be appreciated. Excluding those with zombies, no shooter has come close to dislodging these pair as firm favourites.

In terms of controlling green clad pixies, Zelda: Phantom Hourglass for me was second only to Link to the Past in terms of enjoyment. A great debut on the DS for Link.

Mirror’s Edge would be held in far higher esteem if only the combat wasn’t so frustrating. For me this has great parallels with Sands of Time; if only enemies were completely removed from both games then I would champion them to anyone who would listen.

Although there seems a backlash for Fable II, I still really loved it for what it was. There may be no sandbox world on the scale of Oblivion but I liked what it did for it did it really well.

365 Word Review: Zelda: Phantom Hourglass

What Phantom Hourglass brings to Zelda is a fresh take on an experience that for me was becoming stale. True, it resurrects aspects of Wind Waker, but this is merely a backdrop for a greater, seabound adventure.

Washed up on a beach, your quest is to rescue your friend Tetra from a powerful evil and restore the Ocean King to his full power. To help you on your way, you quickly befriend a bearded old man, his twinkling fairy granddaughter and a treasure hunter named Linebeck.

Never taking itself too seriously, Phantom Hourglass has some genuinely funny moments as the three bicker, trying to decide your path. Partially helped by the stylistic look, they create the most charasmatic installment of the series and cutscenes are never full the of faux heroism that hampers many adventure games.

With Linebeck’s boat at your command you set sail, navigating in between islands and firing your cannon with deft strokes from your stylus.

Look up there. Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s a boss… get it!!!

In fact the stylus is used cunningly throughout; nothing seems forced, from your sword swings to the bomb-chus that follow your drawn trail, each weapon fits into the control scheme. Highlight is definitely the boomerang as you trace its course across the screen.

Being Zelda, you are always on the look out for your next dungeon and these are the game’s strength. Each bases itself around one of your weapons and trains you in its art before unleashing a boss upon you to test your skills.

When not hunting new toys, there is always something to do on the waves as treasure hunting, fishing, side quests and dodging pirates are quickly opened up to keep your voyages eventful.

What is key about this Zelda is the relaxed approach it takes. Although a lot of the battles do require reactions and thought, many of your tasks are about manipulating the environement with the touch screen or general observations that encourage you to constantly make notes on your map – another excellent use of the DS.

With these changes, some may consider that it panders to the casual market but they would mistaken for it just makes it far more acessible and refreshing than many a recent outing.

9/10

Portable Recommendations

As my Visual Studio crashes for the umpteenth time today, I sit looking out on the frozen duckpond outside my window and my mind drifts.

Mostly, it’s drifting towards my DS, sitting glinting next to me, and what to play on it now that Ali and I (team effort) have now completed Zelda: Phantom Hour Glass. It was absolutely fantastic but I need something new to fill the void.

Does anyone have any recommendations? Ideally some similar adventure style game would probably be good so as to keep us both amused but I’m open to most things. Has anyone tried Professor Layton?