Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash Review

Time to lace up your trainers and pop on those tennis whites as you follow the red-capped plumber and friends on a mega mushroom tour in Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash. But its supremely fun modes, character animations and courts are let down by odd development decisions that are far from ace.

As the latest instalment in the Mario sports spin-off series and developed by Camelot, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash is a delightfully entertaining tennis game with a neat twist. Designed as a simple, pick up and play title, Ultra Smash contains four gameplay modes with Mega Battle, Knockout Challenge, Mega Ball Rally and Classic Tennis, alongside its online matchmaking mode. With 16 playable characters, four of which can be unlocked, tennis fans will be spoilt for choice when it comes to selecting their champion. And while there’s ample character choice, the game is also compatible with 22 amiibo that can be trained alongside your character in Knockout Challenge mode.

The major draw for Ultra Smash is in its spotlight gameplay mode: Mega Battle. Choosing either Singles or Doubles matches, players can verse others in local co-operative, online or via the game’s AI and select a length between one, three or five sets and two, four or six games. At the start, players will only be able to choose from the three standard courts available in hard, clay or grass, with another six unlockable courts available later. Once in play, mega mushrooms will be thrown onto the court after a series of points have been won, ramping up the excitement and hilarity with it.

Eat a Mega Mushroom and turn the tables dramatically. More power. More stomping. More reason to play.

Stylised after Alice’s adventures in Wonderland, chomping down a mega mushroom will turn your character into a walking on-screen giant for a limited amount of time, enabling you to power up, stomp and jump shot your way to winning points in either Mega Battle and Knockout Challenge modes. The gorgeously fluid movements, the beautiful control and the range of shots on offer is a real testament to Ultra Smash’s overall game design. From the outrageous curveball that slides through the air with serious spin to the straight-shooting fireball, Camelot has nailed it – game, set and match.

As players will be pointed in the right direction for chance, power and smash shots with different coloured circles such as pink or blue, Ultra Smash is made seamless for beginners and younger players. But those shots don’t have to be followed either, giving professionals the chance to shine with some well-timed drop shots, directional high arcs and brilliantly executed serve and volleys.

Though the mega mushroom adds to the game’s diversity with a good change of pace, the ability to perform ultra smashes is the strawberries and cream to Wimbledon; we can’t have one without the other. Double tap the assigned controller button at just the right time while inside a pink circle and you’ll perform a surprisingly devilish ultra smash. With a great action cutscene, using an ultra smash is a guaranteed way to outsmart your opponent with skill and good timing.

Ready for my Ultra Smash? You bet, Toadette.

While Mega Battle keeps you on your toes, Knockout Challenge and Mega Ball Rally provide different forms of play. The latter is quite simple; hit the ball across the court to your opponent as many times as you can. Unfortunately, it’s a rather forgettable and throwaway mode, with no achievements to gain from it. On the other hand, Knockout Challenge is where Ultra Smash gets serious. Designed as the only single-player campaign mode, it’s a real shame you can’t play this as a Championship or Cup in lengthier matches. Instead, players will have to fight tooth and nail and compete with a series of increasingly difficult AI players in tiebreak games.

Once defeated you can spend coins – which are awarded to players after every in-game match – to verse that particular opponent again, or you can give up and restart from the bottom of the ladder. Thankfully, Knockout Challenge is less of a chore when teaming up with one of the 22 compatible amiibo. Playing as a team against one opponent, your amiibo will be able to train with you and level up their individual statistics in power, accuracy, speed and so on. To max out your amiibo’s stats, you’ll have to play a total of 50 matches in Knockout. But the real kicker is your amiibo can only be used in Knockout and its online mode; another odd decision.

Aside from its strong gameplay, one of Ultra Smash’s strangest design flaws is its complete lack of a statistics page in any of the five modes. For core tennis players, knowing how many jump shots you’ve successfully hit, or how many returns you’ve made compared to the amount of Aces performed is a must for improving on your technique. There isn’t even an option to view in-game amiibo statistics.

Coupled with this, Camelot and Nintendo have given players the opportunity to unlock achievement badges if you’ve passed certain criteria. But what’s utterly bonkers is that you can actually just purchase these “unlockable” badges with the in-game coins you receive after every match. Having played the game for eight hours, I amassed over 60k in coins which enabled me to unlock all 25 badges, simply by buying 14 of them. Thanks for encouraging my laziness, can I have a double pepperoni Pizza with that too? Oh, throw in a nice butler if you get the chance as well.

A panoramic view of the grass court stadium. Pass me the strawberries and cream, please!

Of course, as it’s beautiful to play, Ultra Smash is also fantastic in HD. Character animations are all uniquely adorable with sighs, tantrums and Boo’s hysterical giggles keeping the game light-hearted and a joy to watch. Once unlocked, tennis fans can also move around different courts such as Carpet, Bounce-Out, Sand, Mushroom and Ice, while Morph court combines elements of all 9 courts available. Taking core gameplay to new heights, ever-changing courts are a great way to keep the matches tense with interest and excitement. Just beware of the Mushroom court; the ball gets a little lost in those white blind spots.

While Mega Battle and Classic Tennis modes are arguably the best, Ultra Smash also has an online mode. A simple, matchmaking mode with no lobby and limited customisable options means it falls flat rather than arcing high. Though it doesn’t make the game any less fun, adding more options to the table such as a time restriction on matches would vary opponent tactics considerably.

Ideal for family fun and a bit of light-hearted entertainment on a rainy Sunday afternoon, Mario Tennis: Ultra Smash stylishly reinvents classic tennis. But with the lack of a real Championship and a bare-bones online mode, there’s not much reason to return, mega mushrooms et al.


Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water Review

Aiming to revitalise classic horror with intuitive GamePad controls, Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water hits a perfect shot with the Camera Obscura. But sadly, the genuinely eerie atmosphere just falls flat with a bland storyline, repetitive mechanics and rigid gameplay.

From Koei Tecmo and Nintendo’s SPD team comes the fifth instalment in the Project Zero series – or Fatal Frame as it’s known more widely in the US. Having released for Japan in 2014, western audiences can now feel the shivers of dread coupled with spine-tingling excitement from the game’s co-creator Makoto Shibata and series’ producer Keisuke Kikuchi. Playing as both Yuri and Ren, Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water sets the scene for horror lovers on the fictional Mount. Hikami; infamous for its plethora of suicides and spiritual entities. In recent years, the once peaceful Shrine Maidens have become malevolent and attack those who try to unearth the mountain’s secrets, leading women and men to a gruesome death. Tasked with freeing one shrine maiden, players must guide Yuri through the misty black water and bring tranquillity back to Mount. Hikami.

Consisting of 13 chapters, Maiden of Black Water takes place in numerous locations such as a haunted house, the terrifying Shrine of Dolls, a cable car station and the mountain itself. Featuring both easy and normal modes, players can either be ranked on their overall performance in each episode – including items found, ghosts photographed and defeated – or choose to take the game at their own pace. Fans of the franchise will recognise the return of classic tropes and small references to previous titles scattered throughout the episodes – a neat touch from the developers.

Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water is genuinely horrifying in its opening chapters and, unfortunately, seems to peak far too early. With no way of defending yourself against the Shrine Maidens in the prologue, you’ll have to outrun them down tight, claustrophobic corridors in dank, wet surroundings. But with such a strong opening and starting chapters, the game seems to lose its way rather quickly and begins a dire, repetitive cycle featuring the same clichés that become far too familiar to feel truly terrifying. In particular, the “find the friend and capture the ghost” story mechanic is used frequently, becoming a warped joke in itself, while you’ll find leftover notes and journals that give you the same background information but with a slight change of perspective. Beginning as a promising story, it only falls dismally back into the black water it emerged from, leaving fans more than a little short-changed.

Feel completely immersed in Maiden of Black Water with intuitive GamePad Camera Obscura controls.

However, story aside, the game’s main mechanic relies solely on using the Wii U GamePad as the Camera Obscura – and it’s a complete breath of fresh air. Arguably the most enjoyable part of the game, players can defend against the malevolent ghosts by snapping photographs of them with their trusty camera. Using the left trigger to lock on and the gyroscope – or the dual analog sticks – to find ghosts, you can snap them with the right trigger at just the correct moment to bag a Fatal Frame or Shutter Chance shot. Not only does it feel authentic and breaks the fourth wall of horror gameplay, but it’s also easy to use for new players and gives you a real sense of the foreboding. Stripping away the ability to hide, it’s a fantastic use of the Wii U GamePad, leaving it as more than a secondary map option.

Playing as both Ren and Yuri, players will be able to upgrade the Camera Obscura based on what lenses they find and through points rewarded from ghost encounters. Pick up the best scores from Fatal Frame, Shutter Chance, and exploration shots of spectral entities and you’ll be able to upgrade the camera’s loader, sensor, and output fairly quickly. Plenty of film types can be found throughout the game’s episodes, though you’ll also have an unlimited stash of basic film if battles take a turn for the worse. Although defeating ghosts is your main aim, franchise fans will also be able to use the Camera Obscura to uncover phantom objects. Locking on to the target and rotating the GamePad until the red marker alerts you is yet another great use of the intuitive control scheme.

Creepy Japanese dolls. Man, screw this, I’m outta here!

At times, Maiden of Black Water’s graphics are wonderfully creepy and fascinating to explore. Cutscenes are gritty and feel just as sordid as the Blair Witch Project, giving them a delightfully eerie feel with interesting music and sound effects. Aside from the Shrine of Dolls – which is a particular highlight of the game – and the beautiful black water, textures appear flat and lifeless. There are moments when it’s difficult to tell the difference between where a corridor ends and a door begins, while tree branches and leaves lie motionless as chunks of rotting texture. Dreary, dull graphics that are lacklustre to explore. Yet in stark comparison, character costumes are detailed, and fervently so when they are dripping head to toe from the black water.

Despite its eerie tone, character movement within Maiden of Black Water is clunky and awkward. Destroying most of the tension built, simply walking and running with your character is stiff and frustrating. If you’re one for exploration, most of your play time will be spent picking up medicine, film and journals with an excruciatingly slow cutscene and hand grabbing movements. And simply running feels like a limp jog rather than a good sprint. Even when the playable character opens a door, it’s horribly slow and leaves you with a sense of eye-rolling dread rather than terror. Unnecessarily drawn out sequences such as these lengthen the game considerably and, with no pay-off, it’s inexplicably futile.

Meet Yomi. Her minions are powerful malevolent spirits sent to destroy and frustrate you, in equal measure.

In the early stages of the game, battles with Maiden of Black Water’s ghosts are likely to take you to the edge of your seat. But defeating the same ghosts repeatedly quickly becomes monotonous. As you progress through the game, players will come across the Shrine Maidens. Of course, it’s intensely fun battling five simultaneously in the first instance. Yet you’ll encounter these shrieking ghouls so consistently, especially in tight corridors with no hope of escaping without injury, it becomes utterly tedious. The sense of evil and frightening appeal the game once had is entirely snuffed out by constant battling and backtracking with the same spirits. There’s a real lack of variation here and it’s detrimental to gameplay.

Unless you’re a die-hard series fan, Project Zero: Maiden of Black Water isn’t likely to crack you into a cold sweat. The Wii U’s GamePad integration works beautifully with the Camera Obscura, but sadly the game drowns with a poor storyline, sluggish AI and monotonous chapters before it really has a chance to swim to the surface. Lacking focus and development, perhaps it’s best to blink and miss.

5.5 / 10

Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash Review

The deliciously charming and adorable Chibi-Robo brings his electric moves to the 3DS in a new 2D platformer. But while his shiny exterior is as sweet as those snacks, Chibi’s adventure needs more than a lick of polish to brighten its dull gameplay.

As the fifth instalment in the Chibi-Robo! franchise, and developed by Skip alongside Vanpool, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash exudes the same cutesy appeal seen in its previous titles. Designed as a 2D action platformer, Chibi must save his world from a group of mischievous aliens and bring back peace to the ecosystem. But in order to do so, the 10-centimeter silver robot must traverse six areas across the world, battling metallic enemies with his handy zip lash and plug.

On the surface, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash appears as nothing more than a quick and easy game to pass the time on your lunch hour at work. And for the most part, Zip Lash is exactly that. But it does boast some interesting level designs and fairly tricky challenges, giving fans of the franchise, beginners and younger players a neatly balanced game. With six levels to each world; spanning from the cool Oceania, the vast plains of North Africa, the exotic Caribbean, historical Europe, modern North America and the icy South Pole, there is plenty to unearth and discover. And though the game can be completed in less than a dozen hours, finding Zip Lash’s collectables – such as the many Japanese snacks found in each level – will take much more dedication.

Chibi’s Amiibo can be used in conjunction with the game. Simply talk to Telly in the spaceship to use him.

Playing as the adorable Chibi, players can use two different types of moves with his wired plug to travel up, down and across each level. By using the whip lash you’ll be able to latch onto orange pads a short distance away, though by collecting blue numbered balls you’ll be able to extend Chibi’s zip lash and target orange or blue pads at a much bigger distance. Of course, there are multiple enemies in each level ready to electrify, pummel and crush Chibi, which means you’ll have to outsmart them by using your zip lash as a weapon.

By moving the circle pad or the D-pad for precision, you can target moving enemies and coloured pads with Chibi’s wire, allowing his agile nature a chance to shine. While using the zip lash is fun, it can be awkward and frustrating, particularly when running from a large enemy or rising lava. As the circle pad is overly sensitive it can be difficult to aim, but using the slow-as-a-tortoise D-pad is no help either and leaves players with clunky, lethargic controls that are detrimental to gameplay.

Throughout the game’s 36 levels, Chibi will find different types of trash ranging from broken cups to tired tennis balls from the real world. Collecting these items means Chibi can pop them into his spaceship’s generator,  having compacted them Wall-E style, and will allow him to produce watts to fuel his adventures. If Chibi runs out of watts during a level, it’s game over. However, there are easily accessible upgrades that can be used, such as the battery upgrade after Chibi’s 999 watts deplete, or a boost upgrade saving him from pitfalls. Great for younger and less experienced players, they are handy to have when facing the game’s bosses or more difficult levels.

Damn, Chibi can swing those hips, er, I mean steel framework casing.

While some of the game’s best levels feature in World 4, such as Bomball Ruins which gives a neat 3D perspective on the game’s standard 2D format, most feel far too repetitive. The monotonous jump, aim, defeat enemies, and repeat is thankfully broken up by Chibi-Robo ride levels. As such, players will have the chance to crest the waves on Chibi’s wakeboard, steer a balloon, a submarine and a skateboard.

Though it’s a great change of pace for Zip Lash, the levels are again let down by unpolished controls. Easily forgettable tutorial sections by Chibi’s sidekick the Telly, which only pop up when you fail a mission, coupled with terribly clunky and heavy movements by the submarine and balloon are not just painful to watch, they are excruciating to play. The submarine is even forced on players during a boss fight. Typically, I’d rather watch paint dry, it’s quicker and arguably less painful.

Most of Zip Lash’s boss fights, though, are great to play and are a big boost for the game’s challenge. Appearing at the end of each world, Chibi fans can face off with a golden African snake or Count Dracula and, coupled with superb music to keep battles full of energy and life, they are enjoyable to play.

Try not to get *cough* mummified by this boss.

Unlike most regular 2D platformers, Zip Lash’s level selection isn’t linear but is determined by a numbered spin wheel. Giving you the freedom to choose which level you want is fantastic, however its restrictive nature means you’ll likely play levels repeatedly if you land on the wrong number, and there’s no option to skip them. You can purchase numbered panels from one to five in the shop with moolah – the in-game currency found throughout the six areas – and completely nullify the spin wheel, leaving it as little more than a bonkers, shoehorned feature.

Though if you do happen to play a level again, you’ll get an extra chance to find its collectables, such as the super cute chibi-tots, as well as help rescue a lost alien to gain neat outfits for Chibi. Though it’s an additional feature to the game, it’s purely aesthetic and – sadly –  irrelevant to gameplay. Luckily, once players clear a world, the numbered spin wheel disappears and you can freely select levels as and when you wish.

Similar to the robot’s wire, Chibi-Robo! Zip Lash falls considerably short of its target. Lacking depth to its story, inane difficulty spikes due to the awkward controls in several stages and oddly shoehorned features, you’ll likely find frustration rather than fun. If it wasn’t for Chibi’s hilarious bust-a-moves and cute animations, players would most likely zip-lash straight past.

5 / 10

The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes Review

Unite with others and take on the guardians of Hytopia as a team in The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes. Keeping the mood light with a tongue-and-cheek storyline and the fantastic addition of costumes, there’s enough on offer to keep your sword slashing. Just remember it’s dangerous to go alone.

Taking its inspiration from Four Swords Adventure and blending the charming art style from A Link Between Worlds, The Legend of Zelda: Tri Force Heroes is a spin-off at heart. Designed as a pick up and play title by Nintendo’s EPD team and Grezzo, it was never intended as a core Zelda experience, rather poking fun at itself as a fashion accessory to the main series. Tri Force Heroes dares to be bold, removing solo exploration in favour of teamwork and the ability to form a totem pole in order to solve puzzles, while keeping the game fresh with 128 challenges across eight different in-game areas. Of course, the game’s major draw is in its online play – though it’s never a case of too many cooks spoiling the broth, rather three is the perfect crowd.

A town of simplicities, Hytopia was once a fashionable place until Princess Styla fell victim to a horrid curse. Forced to wear a black jumpsuit, the princess remains locked in her castle, utterly appalled by her state of dress. But Styla’s father, King Tuft, refuses to give up hope and asks for three heroes with pointy ears, thick sideburns and a side parting to help lift the dreadful curse. As fortune would have it, Link is tasked with saving the princess and bringing back the beautiful Hytopian fashion. By travelling across eight classic Zelda areas, ranging from the luscious woodlands to the tranquil sky realm, Link will have to fight tooth and nail to defeat the guardian of each realm.

Now where should we go today, fellow heroes? ‘Cos I’m stumped.

As the eighteenth instalment in the series, Zelda fans can revel in the spotlight and venture on their own in single-player mode. Though arguably the easiest option for blasting through the game’s 32-level story mode, it’s also the dreariest. By using two doppels and the ability to switch seamlessly between each coloured hero and the items they hold, players can traverse the four levels per area in a linear fashion and are able to work out each puzzle in their own time. With no puzzle or area impossible in single-player mode, rather only seen as more testing and difficult, it’s a real credit to Nintendo’s design team to get the balance just right.

Throughout the game’s levels, players can take up the bow, bombs, boomerang, fire gloves and water rod among other items for aid. Each level has its own quirks, as Zelda fans would expect, and are designed superbly. Some of the best levels are featured within the spooky Ruins with illusion colour-coded floors and in the Sky Realm with cuccos making an appearance. Once the guardian is defeated, bonus challenges are then available and include such quests to pop all balloons, adventure in the dark and escape the wallmaster. These bonus challenges – which are available in online mode as well – are a great addition to the game by breaking the linearity and bring longevity, whilst giving players extra challenge and rarer rewards.

There are, however, moments when the game falls short in single-player mode. Boss fights often require a helping hand from another, particularly when facing The Lady in the Fortress, where the wooden doppels are a considerable hindrance. Though it’s not impossible, fears of losing all four fairies in frustration can test even the mightiest of Zelda fans’ patience. Luckily, there is a skip option available if it gets a little hazy. Hand over your spare fairy and bribe your way to the end – though it will cost a quest item choice, three of which normally appear at the end of each level in chests. A neat addition for young or new players to the franchise, the skip option is easy to use but never blatant.

Form a totem pole to hit hard to reach switches, solve puzzles or find new areas with extra rupees.

While single-player mode is enjoyable in its own right, moving the doppels can become time-consuming and monotonous, leaving you with little more than one measly quest item and a sack full of rupees as a reward. And let’s face it, nobody wants to be left hanging following a high five with a dead lookalike. On the upside, single-player mode gives access to items quicker, allowing players to unlock the quirky in-game costumes.

With up to 35 costumes available in Tri Force Heroes, Hytopia is certainly a town for the on-trend fashion-conscious player. Varying in style and colour, each costume gives Link the ability to power up an item or deliver a better range of attack. Their cutesy, adorable appearance elevate the game to new heights. Giving players a challenge to strive for, unlocking all of the costumes is no easy feat and will likely take hours of dedication and a touch of luck. By gathering materials from quest areas, the talented seamstress Madame Couture can stitch up some real treats for players to use within the game.

Ranging from 100 to 2000 rupees, you’ll be able to purchase the famed Kokiri Clothes for access to a bow upgrade, the Cosy Parka for more security on the ice, the Jack of Hearts for one extra heart, and the Sword Suit for a particularly suave beam upgrade. Similar to sale season on the highstreet, Tri Force Heroes’ costume purchasing is so addictive, you’ll want to keep coming back for more.

Dazzle your peers with the most adorable costumes. Just don’t wear those bare minimum digs. Like ever.

Other than the main quests, the quaint town of Hytopia feels eerily quiet. Aside from Daily Riches as a luck-based minigame, a Miiverse Gallery where you’ll pick up a camera, Madame Couture’s and a Street Merchant, there isn’t much else to do. Style over substance seems fitting for the storyline but – as a Zelda title – Tri Force Heroes just lacks depth. Situated in just one town, characters are oddly forgettable and cycle through the same conversations. Groundhog Day never felt so real.

As it’s dangerous to go alone, Tri Force Heroes is best played with others. Connecting with two heroes in the online multiplayer lobby will take you to the destination selected by the team. Based on the criteria previously selected, players can venture to all eight of the areas, depending on how much other players have unlocked. And if you’re struggling to find extra players, you can pass the time by playing keepy-uppy with a ball which plays classic tunes from previous Zelda titles – another little gem from the game.

Tri Force Heroes doesn’t just shine in its online mode, it dazzles. Working together as a team and helping each other by using the touchscreen buttons to totem, the need for an item such as a bomb, boomerang or arrows to hit switches, and the cute cheers are a great way to engage with your fellow adventurers. Although communication is limited, the game doesn’t suffer from a lack of voice chat at all, though it could benefit from additional touchscreen buttons for puzzle communication. Boss fights in this mode are an absolute joy to play. There’s nothing more satisfying than taking down a boss together, as each player has their own unique part to play. It’s pure, simple fun.

Team up with two other players and dive into the belly of the beast. Don’t forget to use the touchscreen buttons to communicate!

But online mode isn’t without flaw. Bar from a big side step from Nintendo with the game’s region locking, some players may suffer from communication errors part way through a quest, problematic lags and considerable frame rate drops. These communication stutters though are less apparent in the game’s battle arena, The Coliseum; a quick, fun and heated battle mode between heroes but one that doesn’t feel fully fleshed out.

Tri Force Heroes is not without fault, seemingly missing that quirky appeal from previous instalments. Yet with some ingenious and occasionally tough challenges, it’s a game that no Zelda fan will want to miss – just bring a few friends to the party first, especially if they have wisdom and power.

7.5 / 10

Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer Review

Leave your shovels, fishing rods and nets at the door as you embark on a new journey with interior design in Nintendo’s latest Animal Crossing title. With the beautiful New Leaf style back in focus, Happy Home Designer isn’t quite the perfect fruit collection, but it still sparkles with its typical franchise charm.

From Animal Crossing New Leaf’s assistant director Isao Moro and developed by Nintendo’s EAD team comes a new 3DS spin-off for the delightful simulation game. Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer is made for those who spend more time decorating their homes, than bothering Blathers with creepy crawlies for the town museum. So if you always wanted to give your favourite characters’ homes a flavour of your creative talent, then Happy Home Designer is certain to pop a spring in your step. Though you aren’t quite the mayor of a town this time, you’ll still provide clients with better customer service than the lovely but ever idle Tom Nook. In fact, he’s managed to become so elusive in Happy Home Designer, that he only ever graces your presence once or twice and, thankfully, doesn’t ask for bells.

Yet unlike any other iteration of the Animal Crossing series, players can begin the game by choosing their own avatar’s facial structure and features such as skin, hair and eye colour. Of course, leaving it to chance based on various questions always gave a fluttering thrill with the risk involved, but restarting repeatedly was never a fun choice. Yet the icing on the cake comes with being able to change your entire look whenever you wish throughout the game; a real positive change in the series.

OMIGOSH. Is that Tom Nook? Has he lost weight? Are my eyes deceiving me… he’s working?!

Once you’ve chosen your avatar, Happy Home Designer presents players with a short tutorial section where you’ll meet the huffing and puffing Lyle and his daughter Lottie in Nook’s Homes. Tasked with creating a cosy home for Lottie, you can get to grips with house staples such as beds, tables and chairs in the neat menu section. But designers will only be able to complete one client home or works project per in-game day, meaning it’s back to basics when saving your game. Simply sit at your desk in Nook’s Homes and write up your report to save, similar to the bed in previous titles. Perhaps it’s a blessing in disguise, after all we avoid Resetti, but there’s nothing like the freedom of pushing the start button to save.

The furniture catalogue can be accessed with your stylus, or the X button on the 3DS, and displays standard household items. Talking to new clients outside of Nook’s Homes gives players an opportunity to expand their current collection with new furniture sets and miscellaneous items when designing their home. Four new characters will mill around Nook’s Homes every in-game day producing a cloud bubble over their heads when near, so there’s plenty of choice when it comes to designing different houses from client criteria.

Franchise fans can also rejoice as the irksome push and pull mechanic used in previous games is no longer the sole focus of item placement. Simply use your stylus to place the object, rotate it and move it to anywhere in the room you wish. Even duplicating items is easy with a quick tap of the item in conjunction with the right shoulder button, alongside grouping select items together with a handy drag and drop tool.

Picnic bliss for Beau in his Garden of Eden. It’s a shame he’s a little camera shy, or is that the cold shoulder?

After a number of in-game days have passed and you’re on your way to becoming an interior design pro, players will gain access to the Happy Home handbook; another fantastic addition to the title. Up to 14 lessons are available to choose, including new floor plans and layouts, changing interior windows and doors, as well as adding customised or refurbished furniture. And given bells are unheard of in Happy Home Designer, you’ll have to purchase lessons via play coins in increments of one, two or five. Unfortunately, players can only learn one new lesson per in-game day which causes minor frustration, particularly when most of the cool features are locked out from the beginning and, ultimately, are part of the core experience.

But designing character homes isn’t the only option as before long our wonderful, familiar friend from New Leaf pops up and we’re knee deep in public works projects. Unlike the projects in the past though, Isabelle gives you full leeway when designing the interior. Branch out with your creativity by planning a school, hospital, restaurant, offices and a variety of shops for the town’s market district. Happy Home Designer is quite simply a joy to play in these parts, giving fans the scope they’ve always dreamed of when bringing their Animal Crossing town to life.

As much as Happy Home Designer excites and drives our passion for client interior design, whether that’s through creating a mansion exterior, providing them with a beautiful garden, giving them extra space with two rooms, or from picking an adequate map location come rain, shine or snow, it’s still missing two features. The lack of town exploration dilutes the experience entirely. With no choice but to get in your car to visit character homes, it’s similar to driving in the dark; mostly black with an occasional light to illuminate.

Unfortunately, two rooms is the best we can do in Happy Home Designer. No bathrooms for you! Outside is best for animals.

Perhaps it’s part of an interior designer’s narcissism, but wouldn’t it be great to look on those houses in a complete town, knowing they were built from the ground up? The second, and probably the most important feature of all, Happy Home Designer doesn’t give you a happy home of your own. May as well just slap a mortgage on bare land, for old time’s sake, while Mr. Nook happily counts his golden bell stash.

Nintendo, though, have integrated Miiverse functionality seamlessly within the game and can be opened up at any time from the touch screen, alongside 3DS image share. Plus the addition of the amiibo cards are bound to come into their own and add enough variation to keep the game fluid and exciting. Personally, I’ve yet to experiment with them but players can access this feature easily within Nook’s Homes and the amiibo phone. In terms of online interactivity, players will be able to obtain special design requests which can be created and sent back to the requester.

Though Animal Crossing: Happy Home Designer has its hang-ups, it’s an enjoyable game that never feels out of place from the main series. With enough home and project variety, an expansive list of items and characters that will always exude appeal, it’s a great side salad to New Leaf’s seasoned main.


Super Mario Maker Review

It’s time to overload your imagination and baffle players worldwide with Nintendo’s finest level creating tool yet in Super Mario Maker. But even if you haven’t got a creative bone in your body, the game still oozes the typical Mario charm to pick up and play.

Developed under Nintendo’s EAD division and from Mario producer Takashi Tezuka, Super Mario Maker is a pocket full of dreams, desires and wishes for level creators worldwide. Designed both for creating and playing, the game brings so many inventive cards to the table it’s often hard to focus on just a few. With freedom like you’ve never experienced before in a franchise title, Super Mario Maker not only encourages you to think outside of the box when creating levels, it delivers various tools to users with the perfect pace. Over the course of nine days, you’ll unlock four Mario universes and a plethora of objects, enemies and power-ups to satiate your creative hunger. It’s simply the perfect excuse to keep you coming back for more; feed us a little and we won’t just crawl back, we’ll perform a perfect Mario dash with child-like glee.

Similar to Mario Paint on the SNES, the main menu screen within Super Mario Maker is interactive. By using the GamePad, players can touch different parts of the game’s name to unleash items, enemies and other effects, all while able to fully complete the background level. It’s in these small, charming touches littered throughout the game that makes Super Mario Maker exude life and a complete pleasure to watch, play through and create.

Select your tools from the top bar with your stylus and stick a few enemies in there. Add some wings. Add mushrooms. Wait, are we a chef or a designer?

But in order to become the ultimate level creator, Nintendo won’t just throw players in at the deep end without a floatation device. Instead, you’ll unlock new in-game items and settings by spending between five and fifteen minutes creating a level with those currently available. You’ll be guided through those first tutorial levels and, over nine days, can unlock additional sample courses to play around with. Getting a feel for your surroundings and the different options available to you is key to creating the best levels. In fact, some of the best user-created levels I’ve played have been ones that use just one theme, or focus on finding just one crucial item. Less is certainly more in Super Mario Maker.

Players can choose to design courses in either Super Mario Bros., Super Mario Bros. 3, Super Mario World or New Super Mario Bros. U. There are also six background options available for each game including the overworld, underground, underwater, ghost, castle and airship. At first, the amount of options presented seem just right, particularly coupled with the many transformation combinations offered, but before long you’ll be craving for different Mario universes to invent and explore within.

However, with that said, there are ample choices for creators via 60 in-game items and sound effects. Drag and drop wings on the back of Goombas, Koopas and Piranha Plants or supersize them with mushrooms – instead of Big Macs. Send Mario into sub areas through pipes and doors to lengthen the level, or use power-ups in humorous ways to dash through enemies, and decrease the time limit to really ramp up pressure and frustration.

Underwater levels are beautiful in a New Super Mario Bros. U design. But er, good luck getting to the goal post!

Stand out from the crowd by recording your own voice in levels, or by using a mixture of the readily available sound effects such as fireworks and laughter to amuse – or annoy – other players. But if secrets are more your calling card, you can also use the mystery mushroom to spoil gamers with up to 100 different character costumes available, though thankfully you won’t have to unlock each one with their counterpart amiibo. And despite showcasing their pixel-led models in the retro levels only, it’s another small but wonderful touch from Nintendo.

When uploading your imaginative creations to the online server, players must complete their courses before doing so, weeding out the impossible levels whilst allowing you to tweak or edit the levels to your liking. At first, you’ll only be able to upload 10 courses but players can unlock more slots by earning medals. When other Mario fans play through your courses they can either leave a comment on Miiverse or reward a star to those they really enjoyed. Quite simply, the more stars you earn the more opportunities you’ll receive to bag a medal. And if you thought a level was particularly good, you can choose to download it to your repertoire to play whenever you wish.

However, it’s unclear at this point how Nintendo select levels for the featured section. How does your ingenious level become noticed in an oversaturated part of the game? For instance, I’ve seen countless creations by those with one or two medals, but not many from new creators. Even my own level was played by just seven users, six days after it was uploaded. It’s a major worry in a game that pushes heavily on its creative elements. Perhaps we need to hit the Nintendo “quality seal” to find an audience.

Quick, Mario! We need your plumbing expertise to get these levels hooked up. Wait, you’re a builder now? Oh. Well, nevermind.

As levels are uploaded within a few short hours to the server, Course World offers an abundance of user-created levels. Players can scroll through courses by difficulty level, their maker, or through the Featured, Up and Coming and Star Ranking course tabs. But if you don’t fancy choosing any yourself, you can play through randomly selected courses in the 100 Mario run. By playing with either the Wii U GamePad, Wii Remote, Classic Controller Pro and Wii U Pro Controller, take on eight different user-created levels with 100 Mario lives at your disposal. This is a great way to find newly uploaded courses by other users, specifically those that haven’t been highlighted by Nintendo’s servers. There’s even a handy skip option if you’re finding a level too difficult or frustrating.

Super Mario Maker isn’t just a game for creators though as it also offers a 10 Mario offline mode to rival its online one. With over 70 levels designed by Nintendo’s EAD team, you must clear 8 levels with just 10 Mario lives in order to rescue Princess Peach. Super Star Dash, Find the Fireflower, Dry Bones Stampede, and Zig-Zag Lava Bubbles are utterly charming, fun and fresh levels to play through. But since the courses are entirely randomised, you’ll most likely run into the same ones repeatedly and – unlike 100 Mario – there’s no option to skip them. For players, then, Super Mario Maker is extremely light on content. Perhaps a mode similar to those seen in NES Remix placed as a single-player campaign would have given us something extra to chew on.

With longevity for creators, Super Mario Maker is an incredible design tool. But it’s a title that is solely reliant on user-created content, and therein lies its predicament. Truly amazing in short bursts but how long until the imagination well runs dry? Perhaps we’ll need to question how long that piece of string is first, then add wings to it.


Devil’s Third Review

Military and melee weapons poised and at the ready, the hyper-violent Devil’s Third brings an interesting twist to the hack and slash come action shooter genre. But its clever changes of pace are often few and far between, with its choppy frame rates, sluggish AI and egregious in-game textures.

From the creator of the modernised Ninja Gaiden series Tomonobu Itagaki, alongside his team at Valhalla Game Studios, Devil’s Third challenges players to die harder with its appealing mix of slick swordplay and linear third-person shooter combat. The game is director Itagaki’s answer to one of Hollywood’s legendary movies, as not only does it combine the greatest action stars from the ’80s such as Jackie Chan, Sylvester Stallone, Bruce Willis and Arnold Schwarzenegger in its main character Ivan,  it blends them together with killer enemies, extreme yet superfluous stunts for the wow factor, and a ridiculous yet verging on hilarious difficulty scale. And just like an ’80s action flick, its aesthetics are more than a little rough around the edges, often sporting flat and ugly textures in each area, but it doesn’t make the Wii U game any less fun to play during multiplayer maps and its single-player campaign.

Before players let themselves loose in multiplayer mode, Devil’s Third features nine missions across Asia, Europe and America throughout its story mode. Playing as former mercenary Ivan, your assignment is to eradicate the terrorist group you once swore allegiance to and tackle the oncoming chimera virus, while earning the right to both freedom and redemption.

With each mission taking place in a different area, exploration is rewarded for those with curious souls. Up to six trophies can be found within the nooks and crannies of each level, as well as nine easy-to-find instrument war trophies throughout the game. Loot lovers beware though, as Devil’s Third often plants gigantic, unnecessary areas in maps with nothing but grim surroundings. It’s this lack of interaction and in-game detail which is a real disappointment for thrill-seeking collectors.

The Asian setting is easily the prettiest and most impressive graphical art within Devil’s Third.

There are, however, moments where story mode’s layout and beauty truly shines. The spine-chillingly, creepy hospital halls and chimera-injected citizens patrolling its length throughout mission three replicate enemy Clickers’ movements from The Last of Us, while mission five’s Asian pagodas, shoji screens and blossom trees are highlighted wonderfully under the game’s moonlight effect. Devil’s Third also features some intriguing off-the-wall elements during missions to vary the monotonous shoot and slash mechanic. Players can take control of machine guns and pick off enemies one by one, shoot from the back of a helicopter, and blast through snowy fortresses inside a tank. It’s in these insanely fun moments, often coupled with pertinent music, that Devil’s Third really starts to crank up its gameplay gears.

If you’re unfamiliar with Itagaki’s previous games, Devil’s Third brings three difficulty modes to the table with casual, standard and hardcore. Depending on which mode you choose, each mission will last between one and two hours and supplies plenty of ammunition, so you can expect a fairly meaty single-player campaign. And given story mode’s variety, there are often many weapons littered on the ground.

Arming yourself with a flamethrower is particularly fun against chimera-infected hostiles, while using the rocket-propelled grenade against helicopters and some bosses can turn the battle in your favour. The game also supplies players with plenty of melee weapons, including a Katana, Machete and the Ninja Sword to name but a few. Taking down enemies in a hack and slash style will boost Ivan’s Enbaku meter and make his tattoos glow. Unleashing the Enbaku enables a near invulnerability mode, leading to devastating – and often comedic – finishing blows.

Touching legs, touching swords, touching finish. Playful fight sequences are just the best, no?

Despite the third-person shooter’s satisfying weapon choice and game mechanics, it’s awash with flaws. An incredibly choppy frame rate combined with sluggish AI can seriously hamper the mood and your in-game strategy. It’s especially apparent in smaller trench-like or sewer areas, where enemies often suffer glitches in between running and shooting, bodies miraculously vanish and then reappear above you, sticking out of a wall, or jammed between a literal rock and a hard place. And there are even times when the frame rate drops significantly between cinematic cutscenes; Ivan seemingly can’t catch a break. Plus when under heavy enemy fire, the frame rate can suffer so greatly it affects your overall weapon aim which features stiff movement, rather than a more natural, fluid motion.

Problems with the mission marker often occur too, with substantial lags between each objective. I’ve often aimlessly – and with great frustration – shot at dead hostiles in order to trigger the next objective, or even walked blindly into the next enemy camp to stimulate movement. Not only will you feel idiotic in doing so, you’ll plaster Ivan with so many bullets in the back, he’ll be walking out with a new blood-soaked tattoo. No “yippee ki yays” or a spare vest to be found around here.

In another hair-raising error, story mode will plant Ivan into enemy saturated ambushes straight off the mark. During the earlier missions, you’ll encounter Big Mouse in an overtly surreal boss fight. Not only is this fight terribly unbalanced with a boss that has no distinct pattern and a dash that outruns your own, you’ll need to obliterate 20 plus soldiers before you are inevitably blown apart. Let’s not even joke here, just sign me up for the Suicide Squad, please. No capes either.

Get to grips with the multiplayer mode in Devil’s Third, choose your weapons wisely for each map!

In stark contrast to the game’s subpar single-player campaign, Itagaki has given much care to its online multiplayer mode. Players will begin by customising their own male or female avatar as a Gunner, Assault or Sniper, equipping them with armour, camouflage and weapons with load-outs of their choosing. Weapons are only purchasable with in-game Dollen, of which you’ll be supplied with 30k at the start, while avatar gear can only be bought with rare golden eggs received at the beginning of your campaign, or from levelling up.

Golden eggs are, in fact, so rare that they can be bought with real money in the Nintendo eShop – it’s a little unorthodox to see some of the game’s biggest and best weaponry locked behind an insurmountable amount of Dollen, only purchasable if you trade one of your Golden Eggs for 100,000 Dollen or more.

Microtransactions aside, new players can only battle against others in drill matches until a certain level is reached to play in Siege. With a variety of modes from chicken catching to a steal-the-flag Transporter mode, there’s plenty on offer across a range of well-designed maps to tickle those multiplayer taste buds. For the most part, the frame rate during online matches appears to be very stable unlike during story mode, so there’s certainly less frustration when it comes to engaging with the enemy. And if you’d rather seek out achievements during matches, you can keep track of all your kills – whether it’s a headshot, long shot, your kill streak, or a revenge kill – on the Wii U GamePad, along with player statistics. There’s also an in-game chat room where you can type messages to friends as a substitute for voice chat.

Current power struggles and your faction or clan are detailed in this Siege map layout.

Of course, the real challenge in Devil’s Third is during Siege matches. You’ll need to keep your wits about you here in order to join a clan or faction, or perhaps even lead your own as a commander, wiping out an enemy clan in a fortress takeover or through contributing to your clan’s overall effectiveness by providing extra Dollen. Unfortunately, due to the rather diluted servers pre-launch, I’ve yet to sample Siege mode. And given it’s a large part of the game, it would be unfair to pass judgment upon it at this stage.

In its own right, Devil’s Third has an astute multiplayer experience and features wonderfully wacky drill matches, which are a pleasure to play. Though its single-player campaign doesn’t quite hit the mark, and clever moments are often fleeting, it’s still a worthy game for any Wii U owner. Perhaps it’s the Devil’s multiplayer charm that keeps me playing – it’s certainly not story mode’s horns.