On the Download
Dispatches from Wii's Virtual Console
If Nintendo isn't rehashing classics on Wii, then it is re-releasing them outright. But no one's complaining here. Especially when it means The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask is available for download. Underplayed on the failure that was Nintendo 64, the game was a favorite with critics. Nine years after its initial release, the story and characters give it a charm and playability that rivals most any game to date. Over the course of 72 hours (roughly), Link must save Termina from the grimacing moon that hovers mere feet from the city. Despite the convenient flute that can transport you in time, the constantly ticking clock and glowering moon give the adventure and puzzle sequences a sense of urgency often lacking in games with such lengthy plots and replayability. Perfect for nostalgic adults or young gamers.
Originally played on the Super Nintendo, Final Fantasy II (which was Final Fantasy IV to Asian markets) had a few years added on to its life with Final Fantasy IV: The After Years (we finally stopped renumbering them in America; sorry for the confusion). Now available for download, The After Years picks up 17 years after the defeat of Zeromus (remember?) with the son of the original game's protagonists. This is role-playing fare that defined the genre at the time, and Final Fantasy is on the verge of releasing its 13th and 14th iterations. The After Years follows most of the rules of the role-playing genre, but then again, Final Fantasy wrote a lot of those rules, and they still do it better than most. Additional Final Fantasy IV expansion games are already set to release on Wii Virtual Console by the time you've completed this episode, so don't get comfy.
Will Wright, the creator of the wildly popular Sims games, followed up the groundbreaking success of SimCity with a digitized turd called SimEarth. I played the PC version of this game circa 1991 and found its efforts to re-create existence from a barely formed planet to highly evolved überhumans insufferably tedious, with the instruction manual reading more like an earth science textbook. The version that WiiWare has reproduced from the little-known TurboGrafx-16 is laughably simplified and yet more brain-fryingly frustrating to control than the original. Unrecognizable icons and objects pile confusion on top of the already unintuitive gameplay. Leave this one in the Wii shop.
Be warned: Many downloadable games will require the Wii's Classic Controller ($19.99); some merely suggest you use it. If you have the option, try both the Wiimote and the Classic Controller to see which is easier. Games for any platform after the original Nintendo likely play better on the Classic Controller. – James Renovitch
While crappy Wii games continue to flood the market, the proprietary titles and dynasties (e.g., Zelda, Mario, Metroid) get the sequel treatment time and time again with little loss of entertainment. It's a wonder it's taken this long to update what was Mike Tyson's Punch-Out!!. Nintendo succeeds once again with a tried-and-true update of the original, and, like the original, Wii's Punch-Out!! doesn't resemble the sport of boxing in the slightest. But Nintendo was never great at reproducing reality, instead resolving to hone its skills creating worlds where plumbers save princesses. Or worlds where a 5½-foot, 105-pound boxer can walk home with the heavyweight belt.
Punch-Out!!'s hero, Little Mac, was and is the diminutive boxer and longshot for the World Title. That is, until the controls are put in your hands and early victories bring on new stereotypes for you to knock out. Who knew there was a Turkish stereotype until Bald Bull stepped in the ring? Each opponent has a unique fighting style that consists of telegraphing punches that usually need to be avoided before going on the offensive.
There are two ways to control Little Mac. Use the Wiimote and its companion, the nunchuk, to mimic punching, and dodge with the direction pad on the nunchuk (or the Balance Board from Wii Fit for excruciating difficulty). If that gets frustrating, turn the Wiimote sideways and use it like the old-school Nintendo controller from the original. After six or seven opponents, the precise timing needed to dodge and punch all but demands a switch to the simplified controls. The imprecision of the Wiimote strikes again.
As you defeat the 13 fighters twice – with new tricks the second time around – you can attempt challenges that require defeating opponents in specific ways. Sure, you can beat Glass Joe, but can you knock him out in one punch? The biggest difference from the classic game is the head-to-head mode. The combination of split-screen and standard play in head-to-head matches makes it a worthwhile addition – one of the few real improvements. Luckily the original and the remake are two of the most replayable games of all time.
Above all, I miss Mario as the ref, and I'm not sure why there's a ref at all, since he ignores the horseshoes in opponents' gloves or transporting swamis. All he's good at is ensuring that I know I've been knocked out. I prefer getting that news from Mario. – J.R.
Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10EA Sports, $59.99
Four words that describe the experience of playing Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10: addictive, beautiful, calming, frustrating. Strange that those same words also accurately describe the game of golf itself – depending on how you're playing. And this is no coincidence. A more realistic golf game would be hard to find on any system.
It is also a hell of a lot of fun to play. The realism of PGA Tour 10 only emphasizes how little I know about the game of golf. The last time I went golfing, I broke the head off my friend's driver with a poorly swung shot. The club head went further than the ball. Knowing which club to use and the appropriate loft and fade to apply are crucial. And, of course, putting can make or break your game; my putting sent me to bogeytown until I got used to the new precision-putting mechanism. But once I got that down, I started shooting for par more times than not. It seems redundant to say about next generation games, but Tiger Woods PGA Tour 10's graphics are gorgeous. Lush greens, excellent camera angles, and a soothing soundtrack all combine for a pleasant, Zenlike experience.
Excellent new features in this installment include the aforementioned precision putting, the addition of the U.S. Open Championship on the challenging Bethpage Black course, real-time weather conditions supplied by the Weather Channel, and several others that play just as well as they look on the press release. Nothing like getting rained on in the back nine to bring back golfing memories. – Mark Fagan
Red Faction: GuerillaTHQ, $59.99
The shooter genre, despite its unyielding popularity with hardcore gamers, shows all signs of running out of tricks. The best shooter games from the past few years had few defining characteristics that set them apart: BioShock had story and art going for it, while Left 4 Dead had relentless action and nearly perfect multiplayer action. Luckily Red Faction also has a trick: abject destruction. The question that follows: Is this one trick enough to sustain an entire gaming experience? The short answer: no.
The long answer?
You play as Alec Mason, a destruction expert recently relocated to the habitable surface of Mars who is quickly sucked into life as a rebel against the Earth Defense Force's tyrannical rule. Plot details are unnecessary since the story offers little to keep the player engaged. What does engage is the destructive power you can wield, be it with a simple sledgehammer or Armageddon-bringing missiles shot from jetpacks.
Previous games have attempted reckless destruction, but there were always limits. Red Faction takes a more Grand Theft Auto, open-world approach. Everything is fair game, and everything (bridges, watch towers, etc.) falls with a realism that makes you stop to watch a building that you so lovingly fitted with explosive charges tumble on that munitions depot right next door before ramming your vehicle through a storage facility.
You can ignore orders and run amok, shooting EDF soldiers and wreaking havoc, but the thrill wanes. Follow your fellow rebels' instructions to proceed speedily to bigger and badder weapons: the real impetus for playing at all.
The multiplayer modes stand out only in that the usually static battlefield can be molded by your destruction to offer a better vantage or strategic position. Nothing is solid, everything is blow-up-able, and the returns again diminish quickly.
What it lacks in finesse, the game partly makes up for in large-scale obliteration, but you're left hoping there's a bigger building around the corner when there's probably just another standard shootout. – J.R.