For: Nintendo Wii
From: Namco Bandai
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (mild cartoon violence)
It’s hard not to admire Namco’s resilient love for “Klonoa,” which soldiers on despite more than a decade without ever setting foot in mainstream popularity’s ballpark.
“Klonoa” takes it back to the beginning on the Wii with a philosophically verbatim remake of the 1997 original that debuted on the original Playstation.
The predictable changes are here on schedule. The blocky 3D graphics are completely redone and look thoroughly modern (by Wii standards) thanks to better animation and a much smoother framerate. Gibberish gives way to a full complement of voice actors, who class up what remains a pretty goofy storyline.
Beyond that and a few new bonus stages, though, it’s the same game “Klonoa” fans adore and everyone else may or may not understand — even more so in 2009 than in 1997.
That’s because “Klonoa” is, despite its graphics and its ability to utilize the third dimension, a 2D platformer in the classic “Super Mario Bros.” vein. Levels change orientation as you twist around corners, and you can interact with certain objects that lie in front of or behind you, but you mostly are moving left and right rather than in all 360 degrees. The levels generally operate in linear fashion despite a few discoverable secrets off the beaten path.
Perhaps more distressing is “Klonoa’s” length (roughly five hours your first time through) and difficulty (pretty easy). Platforming aficionados hungry for a nail-biting challenge will not find it here.
Then again, there’s a reason a devoted swath of that very audience is what has kept this series afloat. “Klonoa’s” levels rarely leave you in great peril, but they’re imaginatively designed and a whole lot of fun to traverse anyway. The game doesn’t demand reflex perfection, but it fully understands what a good obstacle course should look like. This attention to design, combined with a control scheme that finds the happy medium between looseness and responsiveness, make those levels a whole lot of fun to run, jump and climb through.
The same philosophy holds true for the game’s enemy and boss quotient. They won’t fray your nerves like “Mega Man’s” enemies can, but taking them down is strangely, enjoyably satisfying anyway.
Hitting that seemingly unhittable sweet spot between mindlessly easy gameplay and something hardened platforming veterans can enjoy allows “Klonoa” to be one of those rare Wii games that speaks equally to everyone without leaning on gimmickry. Kids and novice players can wet their feet here, while others can have a completely different kind of fun blowing through the game every now and then. “Klonoa” remains a cult classic 12 years on because it’s as fun to replay as it is short and easy to beat, and the Wii makeover (to say nothing of the $30 price tag) does nothing to change that.
Fallout 3: Broken Steel
For: Xbox 360 and PC
Requires: Fallout 3
From: Bethesda Softworks
ESRB Rating: Mature (blood and gore, intense violence, sexual themes, strong language, use of drugs)
Your successful ability to download “Fallout 3: Broken Steel” will be acknowledged in “Fallout 3” via a dialogue box stating as much, but beyond that — and unlike “Fallout 3’s” previous content packs, which jetted you off to faux-Anchorage and Pittsburgh — “Steel” leaves it up to you to find it.
That, mostly, is due to the fact that “Steel” not only takes place after the events of “Fallout 3,” but possibly alters some of those events as well. If you’ve witnessed the game’s final scene, you likely know what, precisely, needs altering.
Awkward though it is for Bethesda to basically change the storyline seven months after “Fallout 3” first appeared, the new narrative developments should please players soured by the original, abrupt finish. In addition to telling a better story, “Steel” makes it possible to continue playing at your leisure once the main storyline wraps — a huge boon given that the vast majority of “Fallout 3’s” content is optional and waiting to be discovered far outside the bounds of the main storyline. (As if to motivate you further, “Steel” raises your character’s level cap from 20 to 30 and throws in a few new perks that appear designed to reward players who wish to step off the main road.)
First, though, the story continues. Without spoiling anything for those who are no where near the game’s conclusion, here’s the basic rundown: The enemy you may or may not have taken down at the game’s conclusion has hit back, and your job is to find out how that’s even possible, to say nothing of how to stop it.
The six new missions — three mandatory, three optional — keep you inside the Wasteland, but they take you to some new areas of D.C. that did not exist previously. “Steel” also introduces you to some brutally tough new strains of familiar enemies and, per usual, counters that with some new gear — including some new weaponry that makes some of your existing arsenal look peashooter-esque by comparison.
One could credibly argue that the level cap and ending adjustments feel like a digital mea culpa that Bethesda would simply have given away as a patch in the days before paid downloadable content became the norm. “Steel” is as attractive for those tweaks as it is for the new missions and content, and any frustrations stemming from having to pay extra for (or, in the case of spurned Playstation 3 owners, never experiencing) something that should have been there all along are completely reasonable.
But those frustrations won’t change anything at this stage, so the point is moot. “Steel’s” primary objective is to live up to its $10 price tag, and it easily succeeds when all is tallied and considered. If you only indulge in one of “Fallout 3’s” downloadable episodes, this is the one to get.
For: iPhone/iPod Touch
iTunes Store Rating: 9+ (infrequent/mild cartoon or fantasy violence)
Price: $2, though Paramount has indicated this is subject to change shortly
For all the talk about the wretched history of movie-based video games, the 1986 rendition of “Top Gun” remains an arguable Nintendo Entertainment System classic. How nice, then, to see the spirit of that game so overtly entrenched in this one. The new “Top Gun” features the kind of modern frills one expects, including a softer learning curve, achievements and a sufficient (though very visually strange) storyline to glue its 10 missions together. At its core, though, the objectives — dodge enemy fire, take down enemy planes — remain as pleasantly straightforward as ever. Freeverse’s most clever gameplay addition is a cheekily-named “Danger Zone” mechanic: The longer you stay in a danger zone — and thus, completely vulnerable to enemy fire — the more points you rack up. (As if to beat the point home, the Kenny Loggins song of the same name provides a portion of the game’s soundtrack, which, fortunately, can be muted.) “Gun’s” tilt-based flying controls work as they should, and taking down enemy aircraft is as easy on the touch screen as it is on the NES pad. Sadly, and in stark contrast to the famously difficult NES game, you can’t attempt to land the plane yourself once the battle ends.