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PAX Prime 2010 Quick Hits: Nintendo Wii Blowout

PAX Prime 2010 Nintendo Wii Blowout

At last weekend's PAX Prime 2010, Game Rant's staff spread out in order to play as many games, and deliver as many impressions, as possible. Somehow, and through no specific planning on my part, I managed to play a ton of Nintendo Wii games.

Maybe it was due to having just played through Metroid: Other M for review. Maybe it was because the lines for Wii titles were shorter than those of other games (though, upon reflection, that really wasn't the case). Or maybe it was simply because there are a lot of Wii games that I'm looking forward to.

Whatever the reason, now's the time for me to deliver my impressions to you. So sit back, relax, and take a look at my PAX Prime 2010 Wii Quick Hits.

Donkey Kong Country Returns

Donkey Kong Country Returns

Two titles garnered a lot of attention at Nintendo's booth: Kirby's Epic Yarn (more on that one later) and Donkey Kong Country Returns.

Developed by longime Nintendo mainstay Retro Studios (Metroid Prime series), Donkey Kong Country Returns is an update to the fondly remembered Rare titles from the tail end of the Super Nintendo days. Though the game is extremely faithful to its roots, it also includes some influences from the underrated, bongo driven Donkey Kong Jungle Beat, who's developers went on to craft the Super Mario Galaxy games.

I played through the first stage of the game as Donkey Kong, while a much younger PAX attendee joined me as Diddy Kong. Together, we traveled left to right, and back and forth between two planes of action, as we gathered bananas, searched for the letters to spell K-O-N-G (we never did get that damn 'G'), and bounced on the heads of our enemies. We blew on dandelions in hope of finding power ups, and shook our Wii Remotes and Nunchucks, as though playing a drum roll on a bongo, in order to make our onscreen characters drop into a roll.

Donkey Kong Country Returns is a great looking game, lush in detail, but clean in execution, with some nice textures. The Nintendo Rep on hand claimed that the game gets pretty hard pretty fast, and I believe him.

Some consider the original Donkey Kong Country games to be classics, but I find them hard to go back to. With Donkey Kong Country Returns, Retro hues closely to the mechanics of the originals, though I think they may ultimately have crafted a superior game.

Kirby's Epic Yarn

Kirby's Epic Yarn

Kirby was the uncontested star of Nintendo's PAX lineup, and after playing Kirby's Epic Yarn, it's easy to understand why.

The conceit is simple: everything in the game world, including Kirby, is made of some kind of string or fabric, and exists on a 2D plane. What is unexpected is how thoroughly and creatively this setting is exploited by the game. Zippers can be undone and strings pulled, which can dramatically change the landscape of the level. Enemies, even bosses, collapse into a mess of yarn when defeated. When ducking "inside" structures, Kirby is visible as a bump in the fabric.

I again played with a second player. The multiple Kirbys can pick up and throw one another, and interaction with the world comes largely in the form of a length of yarn that Kirby can throw, grab items with, and swing on. But then came a section where the two Kirbys became a single, giant, mecha-Kirby, and the game assumed the mechanics of a side-scrolling shooter.

Along the way there were myriad hidden bonuses to discover and enemies to defeat. Charming and whimsical though the presentation is, Kirby's Epic Yarn is clearly built on a solid foundation of diverse, engaging gameplay. Plus, the game looks seriously fantastic; the cloth and yarn behave believably, and convey a tremendously tactile sense of the game world. If this wasn't already on the top of your Most Wanted Wii Games list, you need to update that list, and soon.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4

Sonic the Hedgehog 4

Oh, Sonic. How I wish I could report that Sonic 4 is everything we Sonic fans have so long hoped for. That by returning the series to its classic 2D roots, developer Dimps had managed to recapture the magic so long missing from console Sonic excursions. Alas, it is not to be.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 Wii is, predictably, far less attractive than the (admittedly gorgeous) iterations of the game on the Xbox 360 and PS3. It certainly plays as well as its high-def relations, but unfortunately, in this case, that is not much of a compliment.

Good things first: the art direction is wonderful, reminiscent as it is of Sonic 2's colorful, patterned rendition of the Green Hill Zone. Sonic 4 also smartly adds the homing attack from Sonic Adventure to Sonic's traditional 2D move set.

But from the moment you begin playing, Sonic 4 just feels... wrong. The gravity is strange, and Sonic feels too heavy. Rather than gaining and retaining momentum as he attains remarkable speed, Sonic simply stops when you cease pressing to the right on the controller. When hit, Sonic's rings don't bounce high enough. And right in the middle of a stage, when Sonic should be barreling at top speed, there is a bizarre area full of vines that Sonic is expected to swing on, using his homing attack to move from one vine to the next.

Ranters, I've been playing Sonic games for nearly 20 years (in fact, my Son is literally, right this moment, playing Sonic 2), but I could not get through this area. The mechanics clashed, and Sonic would jump too high, or not target the proper vine, or just plain fall to a spiky death. Along with my hopes for Sonic 4.

Sonic Colors

Sonic Colors

I spent less time with Sonic Colors than any other game on this list. And yet, in stark contrast to Sonic 4, Sonic Colors gave me hope - hope that we may, yet, see a great, new Sonic the Hedgehog game.

In short, Sonic Colors looks like the 3D Sonic game fans have been asking for forever. No Ware-hogs, no hover-boarding, no human princesses. Just Sonic, tearing through super colorful, multi-pathed, amusement park inspired stages at top speed. Players are graded at the end of their run. I didn't see anyone, myself included, score higher than a C.

To be sure, there are some obtuse power-ups, and the possibility exists that I simply missed some significant, horrible part of the game. But from what I saw and played, Sonic Colors is the best chance for a quality Sonic game fans have had for many a year.

Tron Evolution Battlegrids

Tron: Evolution --  Battle Grids

Completely distinct from the PS3 and 360 Tron: Evolution games, Tron: Evolution -- Battle Grids is sort of like Wii Sports set in the Tron universe.

Though there is a story mode, I exclusively played through the multiplayer portion of the game. There are multiple modes, which each support up to four players, based on Tron-centric events like Disc Combat, Tanks, and, of course, Light Cycles.

Disc Combat was the least interesting of the modes, and offered nothing more than players jumping around a small, dynamically changing arena, hucking Discs at one another. Tank combat was basically just like Combat on the Atari 2600 (which is not necessarily a bad thing). Another mode, in which players pilot Tron buggies and try to destroy one another, played a lot like an arena version of Twisted Metal.

You'd expect it, and you'd be right: the best parts of the game featured Light Cycles. Battle Grids includes a Light Cycle racing game which, though short on tracks, was fun enough, and reminded me of the Extreme G games from the previous console generation.

But the absolute standout was Battle Grids' awesome rendition of straight-up Light Cycle arena combat. It certainly helped that the stadium was impressively huge. But the basic mechanic -- piloting fast, nimble motorcycles that leave behind a solid trail into which your opponents will hopefully crash -- was simply and instantly fun. It has to be said that the control in this mode, which relies on tilting the Wii Remote to steer the Light Cycle, was fantastic -- responsive, but slightly chaotic. The rest of the game I could frankly do without, but I'd download Light Cycles right now, if I could.

There you have it, Ranters. Five games, some good, some... not as much. But all for the Wii, and all coming fairly soon. Will you be playing any of these games this Fall? What other Wii games are you looking forward to?

Donkey Kong Country Returns ships November 21, 2010.

Kirby's Epic Yarn ships October 18, 2010.

Sonic the Hedgehog 4 comes to WiiWare this Fall.

Sonic Colors ships November 16, 2010.

Tron: Evolution -- Battle Grids ships December 7, 2010.

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