Video Game Review - Katamari Damacy

Corbin was up at his grandparents for a sleepover last night, so Jenn and I hit the town. We did some extravagant spending for my benefit (lucky me!) and among other things, I picked up Katamari Damacy for the PS2. My brother-in-law had a spare PS2 that he thought might be broken. I took the case apart and cleared out some dust, and after putting it all back together it seems to be working fine. One game that I had wanted to try for a while was Katamari Damacy, a really unique game where the goal is to roll up your Katamari, or ball of junk, to incredible size. I spied it in Best Buy for $20 and I was all over it.

This game is truly bizarre. You play as the Prince of All Cosmos, a litte fella in an oversized green shirt, purple tighties, and an oddly shaped (cylindrical?) head. Your father, The King of All Cosmos, has accidentally broken all the stars in the night sky. He has given you the job of cleaning up his mess. To do so, you must roll your Katamari, which is a ball to which anything will stick, around until you have collected enough junk to create a star.

The games starts with some fairly simple goals. You start with a 5cm Katamari. Anything smaller will stick, anything larger will bump you away, and possibly cause some of your junk to fall off. You roll the katamari around, increasing it's size until you reach your first goal of 10cm. The music in the game is really cheesy, but it is also very catchy, and I caught myself humming the tunes throughout the day. Some of the levels are really hard. In each session, you are given a set amount of time, and a goal size to build up your katamari to. The first levels start with smaller sizes, but by the end of the game you are building up your Katamari to 300 meters. The game is very short (I was awake to 4am, but I beat the game), but there is a tremendous amount of replay value. There are collection levels in addition to the size goal levels. Most of the collection levels I only achieved 60% of the goal. That's plenty enough to pass, but it allows for a lot of replay value as I try to reach a higher percentage.

This game is just plain fun. It has been out for a while, and it has received lots and lots of critical praise. I'm just jumping on the bandwagon here I guess. If I had one complaint, it would be that there are too few stages. It would be nice to have a bit more variety in the goals for each level, but otherwise this game is tremendous fun. The controls are dead easy too, and only take a second to learn (steer both analog joysticks in the direction you want to push, or push the joysticks in opposite directions to spin around the katamari). If you have a PS2, you owe it to yourself to try out this truly bizarre, one of a kind game.

Game Review - Mario & Luigi : Partners in Time for the Nintendo DS

Repetitive, Repetitive, Repetitive. This game doesn't deviate from a one-track experience.

I had very high hopes for Mario & Luigi : Partners in Time. My first taste of the franchise was with Mario & Luigi : Superstar Saga. I loved the campy humor, the mix of RPG and Adventure elements, and how the game progressively built on itself with new techniques and specials. Enamored, I grabbed Paper Mario and the Thousand Year Door, the next game in the franchise. I loved this game for all of the same reasons. So I had certain expectations when I picked up Partners in Time.

I was left very disappointed by this effort. First, the character building component of the game is essentially worthless in this version. Sure, in previous incarnations it didn't have much effect either, but I was hoping for some improvement here. The only true character building you can do is to pick which attribute to give your bonus to. Otherwise, your character is on a pre-rolled level up scheme. Just attack every monster in sight and you'll level up quickly, but it doesn't appear to make much of a difference in your characters play. To pour salt in this wound, the equipment that once allowed for some serious power-ups has been seriously cut down. The badge and trouser system from previous games allowed for some interesting combinations where each brother could play a specific role. Perhaps one could be a healer and the other the tank. In Partners in Time, you are coerced into equiping all characters with the same trousers, as certain ones provide better attributes than any others. And the badge system isn't even worth investigating. After trying out several different badges, none appeared to have any real effect on my ability to defeat enemy characters.

One highlight of the previous games was the campy writing. Each character had, well... character! In Partners in Time this writing feels very forced. It's like one of the interns was told to write the script after playing through the other games in the series.

Finally, and this is what really ruined the game for me, is the boring repetitiveness of the game. Without any character building, without any interesting team building, I was left hoping that the gameplay would save the day. Unfortunately, none of the interesting features of the DS were taken advantage of in this title. The baby brothers aspect is really forced. You must use the baby brothers in certain sections to open up areas of the map, but otherwise they are totally unnecessary. In battle, they provide little more than an extra hit and a backup in case the older brother dies. The moves you learn in the first sequences of the game will be the only ones you use throughout the game. Even the "brothers items" use the same mechanisms. The repetitiveness of using the same moves throughout the game makes this a tiresome experience that places a dark spot on the franchise. The only saving grace for this game is that it is extraordinarily short (my play time was right at 16 hours when I beat it). There is absolutely no replay value here.

If you are at all a fan of the Mario & Luigi / Paper Mario franchise, do yourself a favor and avoid this title. If you haven't played any of them yet, try one of the others, and spare yourself the agony of this game.

Visit My Town

I finished out spending my birthday gift certificate this week. I had enough for one more game, and I was waiting until Wednesday for the release of Animal Crossing : Wild World. It is really hard to describe this game. In the game, you are a boy or a girl (you get to choose) who moves into a town full of animals. One of the animals, Tom Nook, has built you a house, but you are in debt to him for the mortgage on the home. You can do odd jobs and sell items at his store and to others in town to pay back your mortgage. There really aren't any true goals in the game though, and there isn't any "winning" of the game. Instead, you just visit your town and do things, like fishing, collecting seashells, digging up fossils, catching bugs, and keeping up on local gossip. You can send letters to your neighbors, and you might get something in return.

I had read online that this game was very, very popular and that it was very, very addicting. Now I know why. The game happens in real time, so if it is two o'clock in the afternoon in the real world, it is two o'clock in the game. The sun rises and sets just like real life, and stores open and close. In addition, it seems like something new happens each day, so you start to look forward to switching on the game every day to see what new things might be happening. I can't put it down! Yesterday I set up an appointment to meet with one of the in game characters at 3pm at my house. I switched on the game at 2:55, and sure enough, five minutes later that character was knocking on my door.

One last feature of the game is online connectivity. The Nintendo DS has built-in 802.11b wireless networking, so if you are near a wireless hotspot, you can connect to the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service and play with other people. In Animal Crossing, once you have added friends to your friend list, you can invite them to visit your town, and you can also visit their town. Every town is different, so you may find items in their town that you haven't found in your own. I was pretty excited about this feature, but then I was disappointed when I found out you can only visit with people you have exchanged friend codes with. A friend code is a special number that uniquely identifies the combination of your game cartridge and Nintendo DS. By using Friend Codes, Nintendo created a way to verify that only people you know and trust can play with you in your online games. It's a good idea, as it guards against people who might prey on kids, and it also prevents you from getting your town trashed by some griefer (online-game term for poor sport). Unfortunately, since I'm an adult playing this game, I don't know any people who have it as well, let alone a Nintedo DS. It will be tough for me to find other people to play with without looking like some dirty old man. There are services online for exchanging friend codes, and I suppose I could use those, but I still wish that, like with Mario Kart, there were a special mode where I could play online without exchanging friend codes.

In sum, so far I think this is a pretty cool game. I'm totally addicted to switching it on and checking out the new stuff in my town. (Jenn warned me not to get fired over playing this game at work) If you have this game as well, and you would like to visit my town, just put a comment in this post and we'll have a visit!

Wanna Race Me?

Do you have a Nintendo DS and Mario Kart? Wanna race me? Leave a comment in this post and I'll send you my friend code.

For some reason, when I read the title of this post, I hear Napoleon Dynamite saying "Wanna play me?" out by the tetherball pole.

(Not So) Patiently Waiting - Day 3

Wednesday started off like every other day this week.... with a quick stop in at Fry's. I called on my way in to work, and although they didn't have the Nintendo DS in stock, they did have Mario & Luigi : Partners in Time out on the shelf. I stopped in and picked it up. Later that day, I was out with my two coworkers for lunch, and I called. This time the clerk said "Yes, we have it in stock." Woohoo! So we barrel on over and I shoot over to the video games section. My eyes dart around, franticly searching for my new toy. I can't find it?!?!? I ask the nearest clerk, who tells me that, yes, it is in stock, but the units were being processed by receiving. This is the process where they apply pricing stickers, check them in to inventory, and get them ready for display. He asked his manager if he could just go grab one for me, but no, they weren't ready for sale. He suggested that I come back at 4pm, as they would definitely have them on the shelf by then. We went back to work, and at 2pm I couldn't contain myself anymore. I called back to the store, and asked if they were actually on the shelf yet. I get a positive "yes" to that question. I tell my coworkers who nod knowlingly as I dash out the door. Ten minutes later, I'm the proud owner of a new Red Nintendo DS / Mario Kart Bundle.

Red Nintendo DS / Mario Kart DS Bundle

Box contents

Checkout those stickers and special wrist strap

I was really good, and managed to continue working back at the office until around 5pm. I couldn't take it at that point though, and cracked open the box to show my buddies. They had lots of questions, equally parts for their kids as regards possible holiday gifts, and questions for themselves as a fun toy. I played a quick race of Mario Kart, then packed up and came home. Wednesday night is usually a crappy TV night, so I sat on the couch and played through my games. I never even popped the Mario & Luigi game in, as I was playing Mario Kart most of the night.

One of the features about the DS that I was really excited about was the built in WiFi. Using the Mario Kart DS game, you can connect to other players through the internet wherever wireless internet access is available. I tried it out last night and had fun racing against another REAL player. Tonight when I played I got totally smashed by a couple of other players, but it was neat to watch them play and see some of the shortcuts they found. I think the WiFi connectivity adds a lot to the game, and to the potential of the whole system.

Suffice it to say that I'm one happy boy. Now that Jenn has gone to sleep, I'm going to curl up on the couch and play games until the wee hours. Wheee!

Jade Mason