Spencer's Day

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Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Wonderful 101 revisited!

Ah, The Wonderful 101. One of the first video games I ever reviewed on this blog literally years ago, and I noticed that 14-year-old!Spencer was a little harsh on the game. So after playing through the entire game on Normal difficulty (which, as it turns out, is pretty dang hard!), I shall be gracing The Wonderful 101 with a Revisit!

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For those of you who do not know what The Wonderful 101 is, this quirky action-platformer created by the lovely folks at PlatinumGames was one of the Nintendo Wii U's launch titles, and just kind of came, stuck around for a snack, then passed on into video game heaven. Seriously, this game was a commercial flop... Because people didn't buy it at all. Which is a shame, because this game is actually pretty dang good.

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The Wonderful 101 tells the tale of The Wonderful 100 (pronounced One-Double-Oh), a group of elite planetary defenders tasked with protecting the entire planet from alien invaders calling themselves the GEATHJERK (short for "Guild of Evil Aliens Terrorizing Humanity with Jiggawatt bombs, Energy beams, Ray guns and Killer lasers) Federation. And adding a spice of comedy into the mix is the fact the entire game is a parody of henshin superheroes (you know, things like Power Rangers or Kamen Rider). The story isn't original, but that's the point. It REVELS in the fact it is a parody of henshin superheroes, Plus, there's a plot twist that literally no one, not even me, saw coming (it was extra surprising on my Normal mode playthrough because I haven't touched the game since I played it the first time and as such I forgot most of the plot).

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The Wonderful 100 themselves are a surprisingly likable bunch, even if all their names start with "Wonder" and end with "insert color, object, or adjective here". From the talkative but extremely poetic Wonder White (who can quote Asian poetry on a dime!), to the reckless but loyal Wonder Blue, the Wonderful 100 are probably a lot more likable than they should be considering you know, this entire game is a henshin superhero (which is a genre well-known for shallow/bland characters) parody.

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"Well if it isn't the heir to the throne of the roaming comet
Rhullo, leader of the Space Pirate band known throughout
the universe as the Guyzoch, Prince Vorkken!"-Wonder Red, 2014

Also, I am not sure why, but I seem to be the only person ever that actually likes Wonder Pink. Why do I like Wonder Pink? One, her Romanian accent makes everything she says inherently funny. And too, I always found the running gag of her literally drooling over Prince Vorkken's (pictured above!) good looks to be hilarious. Plus, she's voiced by Tara Strong, and if you have been living under a rock, Tara Strong is that one voice actress that does EVERYTHING. She has voiced My Little Pony characters (a character? I dunno? Don't ask how many?), Timmy Turner from Fairly Odd Parents!, and about half a million other roles that I can't be bothered to list right now. She is EVERYWHERE.

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Every character in the game gets a flashy title card
when they make their first onscreen appearance. Yes.
EVERYONE.

Speaking of voice acting, I really like this game's voice acting. Again, not something you would expect from a henshin superhero parody, but the voice acting is surprisingly good.

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But ultimately, a video game's worth comes in through it's gameplay. And I have a love/hate relationship here. On the one hand, the Unite Morph mechanic (transform your entire team into giant weapons like swords and guns by drawing different shapes on the Wii U Gamepad) is really cool and the actual combat is both challenging and fun. On the other hand, I DESPISE the isometric and COMPLETELY UNADJUSTABLE camera, among other design choices that are, in retrospect, kind of idiotic. There are way too many moments where you easily miss out on collectibles due to the camera being locked at one angle. The fact the game automatically zooms in and out whenever it wants is both disorienting and frustrating. And the biggest problem of all? You have to buy the ability to block and dodge attacks from the in-game store. This is the most baffling design choice ever. If any of you have played literally ANY of PlatinumGames other titles (Bayonetta, Transformers: Devastation, OKAMIDevil May Cry, etc) you know that being able to block and dodge is a necessity. Now I know what you're thinking. "Spencer, why are you whining about the fact you have to buy the ability to block and dodge?". The answer is because there are SEVERAL enemy types that can basically only be defeated by blocking/dodging.

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Additionally, there are a ridiculous number of Quick Time Events and while the ones where you have to draw the aforementioned shapes on the Wii U Gamepad to trigger Unite Morphs are alright, the ones where you have to mash a button repeatedly are annoying. But you're milage will vary here, since this game is mostly beneficial to people with really good reflexes. Or if you have a friend or family member with better reflexes than yourself!

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On the bright side, The Wonderful 101 has a plethora of minigames, namely shoot-em-ups and one big massive homage to Punch-Out!, just with giant, MegaZord-esque robots instead of pro boxers (one of these robo battles even has a remixed version of the Punch-Out! theme!). They offer a nice break from the usual combat as well as save you from the atrocious camera.

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Behold! Laambo, Officer Sixth Class of the GEATHJERK
Federation! AKA The hammiest lizard-man in the galaxy!

The Wonderful 101 also has some surprisingly nice visuals. My only real complaint is how some characters look weirdly metallic during certain cutscenes (except the characters who actually ARE made of metal...) and the boss battles are all wonderfully (geddit!?) animated, chief among them being when Wonder White uses a Unite Claw enhanced suplex on a kraken, or basically the entire final boss. In fact, the only boss battles I don't like are literally any time you have to fight Prince Vorkken, who not only has better versions of all your own abilities, but also has Unite Boomerang (which, in my opinion is the best Unite Morph in the game) LONG before you can get it yourself. Oh well. At least Vorkken's theme is the epitome of classy! Speaking of music, the game's soundtrack is also alright. The main theme is deliberately cheesy, which makes sense since the entire game is, as previously stated, a henshin superhero parody. But there are some legitimately awesome parts of the soundtrack.

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Overall, I give The Wonderful 101 a 7.5/10. I know my original review was only 0.5 points lower, but I no longer agree with all the points I said and THIS review is the definitive version. Besides, that post didn't have screen shots! But anyway, if you like video games that are affectionate parodies of well-known genres, or just want to play a Nintendo exclusive action game made by the Kings and Queens of the Action Genre themselves (PlatinumGames, obviously), then this game is for you.

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Night in the Woods Review!

Okay, so my reasoning for getting this game was actually kind of funny. You see, I was reading a GameInformer magazine and saw a really cool-looking screenshot, read the first paragraph of the review of the game in question (not enough to influence my opinion of the game, obviously), decided this game has a really fun-sounding concept, downloaded the game on my PS4, and voila!

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That game is none other than Night in the Woods. But what IS Night in the Woods? It's a point-and-click-adventure/platformer hybrid with mild horror elements. Said mild horror elements don't really come in until the final act, but they ARE there.

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Night in the Woods follows the misadventures of Mae, a 20-year-old tomboy college dropout who moves back into her hometown, Possum Springs, for reasons you the player don't realize until very late into the roughly 10-hour adventure but once you do realize those reasons they are actually extremely sad. Oh, and she's an anthropomorphic cartoon cat. Why? Because literally every character in the entire game is an anthropomorphic cartoon animal. Anyway, a good chunk of the story is Mae getting used to how drastically her hometown has changed since the two years she spent at college.

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Something I will note right now. Do NOT be fooled by the fact everyone is a cartoon animal. This game is rated T for Teen for a reason. That reason being A) Mae and her friends are prone to using Back to the Future levels of profanity. B) this game uses a lot of dark humor. C) One of Mae's best friends, Bea the crocodile, has a lit cigarette in her mouth literally at all times (Heck, at one point in the game it gets so dark that the gang uses the light from her cigarette as a makeshift torch lol). And D) To quote the ESRB themselves, "Crude Humor". So in other words, think of Night in the Woods as what would happen if Zootopia was rated PG-13.

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The story is surprisingly good, since the main cast are lovable and kind of relatable. The four main characters (Gregg, Angus, Bea, and Mae) are all well written and have some of the best character development I've seen in quite a while. Also, I just now realized nine times out of ten the characters' personalities match their species. Mae is an athletic, snarky, sometimes aloof teen. She is also a cat, which are often associated with these traits. Gregg is a fun-loving, mischief-making trickster, which comes naturally since he's a fox. Angus is a sincerely nice nerdy teddy bear.. And Bea... I have no idea what crocodiles have to do with being a dark and brooding store clerk (in addition to being the gang's metaphorical morale compass), but I'll figure that one out later.

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Something I like about Night in the Woods is it's branching story. It always has the same general ending, but you the player can choose to hang out with Gregg (lovable rogue trickster fox) or Bea (mature and responsible edgelord crocodile) for basically the entire first half of the story. The reason why I love this is because it fits within the context of Mae's desire to reignite her friendships with her old pals from high school. Additionally, you learn more about Mae's old buddies this way. So there are bound to be stuff you missed on your first playthrough (especially since the entire story spans across two in-game weeks, so you are working on a Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask style timer). Another thing I like is how this game has somehow managed to make me laugh AND hit me in the feels (often back-to-back). Because despite being in a world where everything is in a deliberately simplistic art style and everyone is a cartoon animal, the game deals with some very REAL topics (Mae's parents are worried they might get evicted when they fail to make enough money to pay off mortgage, The ENTIRE TOWN is getting hit really bad by the negative effects of capitalism AND IT SHOWS, Mae herself is having an existential crisis on top of everything that's happening to her life, I could go on and on).

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The biggest thing about this game is it's clever writing. How clever is it? The comic book style speech bubbles are filled with some of the most natural-sounding dialogue ever. Now in most story driven games, there's always going to be that one moment where someone says something that people would probably never say in that situation in real life (like Darth Vader's infamous "NOOOOOOO!!!!" scene at the end of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, because let's face it, who on Earth would scream the word "no" in such a over-dramatic way when learning that their spouse just died?). Night in the Woods is basically the exact opposite, since all four of the main heroes talk like how people would in that situation in real life.

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Now I know that statement sounds really depressing, but Night in the Woods is not a depressing game (unless you get hit in the feels very easily), because quite frankly, this might be the funniest game I've ever played... Next to Undertale. It strikes the perfect balance of feels-inducing and laugh-out-loud funny. Sometimes it alternates between the two!

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And that about covers it for the story, so how is the gameplay? Night in the Woods mostly has you run around the quiet town of Possum Springs, talking to NPCs and doing some light puzzle solving. There are also a LITERAL ton of minigames (most of which are reserved for Gregg's story arc) that range from playing Guitar Hero esque rock songs with Gregg, using burnt-out lightbulbs as baseballs with Gregg, building a robot with Gregg, getting into a knife duel with Gregg, dancing at a party with Bea (betcha you were expecting Gregg to be here, didn'tcha?). Mae herself is surprisingly fun to control thanks to fluid and highly responsive controls.

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The platforming elements mostly come in during increasingly ominous dreams Mae has at night, in which she normally has to find four ghostly jazz musicians, and I've heard that the dreams are tedious and annoying but I actually liked the dreams since they had some really nice music and visuals. Then again, I never found it tedious OR annoying to find the ghost musicians because either I am a lot better at platformers than I thought I was, or all of them are in (relatively) easy-to-reach areas.

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Also, you can play a video game called DemonTower (which is obviously a parody of roguelike games such as the original Legend of Zelda). So in other words, "Yo dawg, I heard you like video games, so we put a video game inside another video game, so you can play video games while you play video games!". But in all seriousness, DemonTower serves as a nice distraction from the main story and is surprisingly addicting. I might beat DemonTower one day, but I have yet to get past the second boss (guess I'm not good at roguelikes lol).

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Also, I LOVE the visuals of this game. Night in the Woods features simplistic, but vibrantly colored 2D environments and character designs, The music (when the game plays said music) is also surprisingly good, but my biggest gripe, and the only thing I don't actively like about Night in the Woods (aside from trying to steal a pretzel because I cannot figure out how to do that at all) is the fact that the music only plays during major (read: dramatic) parts of the game. It wouldn't be as jarring if Night in the Woods had voice acting, but all of the dialogue is done through (conveniently color-coded) speech bubbles akin to a comic book. So when the music is gone for entire cutscenes, it's kind of disappointing because there were a few moments that could have used music for additional emotional weight (namely the scene where Mae reveals the extremely sad reasons why she dropped out of college). But when it DOES play music, that music is incredible.

But would I recommend this game to someone? Yes. Provided that someone is old enough to play T for Teen games. And no, not 13-year-olds since that is literally the beginning of teenage...hood...? Anyway, I give Night in the Woods a 9/10. Normally I would rate it lower due to the short length but because of the half a million different outcomes to literally everything, it's short length is actually rather beneficial. Now I only have a few words I would like to say to end off my review...

"GREGG RULZ OK!?"- Mae the Cat, 2017.