Kirby Mass Attack
For: Nintendo DS
ESRB Rating: Everyone (comic mischief, mild cartoon violence)
“Kirby Canvas Curse” was such a door-busting revelation for touchscreen gaming that for some, it remains — six years and many great games later — the class of the Nintendo DS library.
To say it’s nice to finally have a spiritual successor to that game is what we in the business like to refer to as an understatement.
First things first: “Kirby Mass Attack” doesn’t recycle “Curse,” which tasked players with indirectly controlling Kirby by drawing freeform platforms, walls, ramps, loops and any other scribble that could safely escort him from A to Z. There is some of that, but it’s more literal, with as many as 10 Kirbies following any path you draw regardless of that path’s physics (so long as the path doesn’t send them straight into walls or other obstacles).
The rub, of course, is that part where you’re controlling as many as 10 Kirbies at one time.
As a predictably silly story explains, Kirby has been split into multiple smaller and less capable versions of himself. When “Attack” begins, you assume control of a single downsized Kirby, who recruits up to nine twins to his party by collecting fruit and other power-ups scattered around what otherwise are your typical 2D platformer stages. (Think “Super Mario Bros.” or Kirby’s more traditional adventures.)
As one becomes two and eventually 10, “Attack” turns into a surprisingly coherent mash-up between platformer, “Canvas Curse” variant and real-time strategy game. When the Kirbies encounters enemies, you can tap on the enemy to instruct all Kirbies to march forth and attack. If you need to multitask, you can tap and drag individual Kirbies to fling them at enemies and anything else that requires their attention at the same time.
In the wrong hands, the idea would stale quickly. But that was true as well of “Curse,” which started small but grew more and more elaborate by parlaying its simple concepts into a ridiculous collection of clever implementations and scenarios.
“Attack” isn’t spotless: Some levels simply ask you to stock up on Kirbies and mindlessly fling them at one enemy or object after another. But far more than not, it flashes that same level of imagination and willingness to try anything and everything that’s possible with the quirky mash-up it’s created. “Attack” sends the Kirbies on a satisfyingly lengthy adventure, and even with the occasional dud level in play, the novelty never outstays its welcome.
“Attack” borrows another inspired page from “Curse’s” playbook by giving dedicated players a ton of incentive to go back play it again. Every level hides coins in secret areas well outside the default path from entrance to exit, and the truly obsessive can attempt to nab each level’s bronze (don’t let any Kirbies die), silver (don’t let any get knocked out) and gold (no damage whatsoever) stars.
The stars are good for bragging rights, but the coins unlock a trove of bonus games, including a “Kirby”-themed Whack-a-Mole variant, a pinball game and a 2D space shooter.
As you’d have to expect, these aren’t full-sized games. But they aren’t exactly diminutive, either: The pinball game has multiple tables, the space shooter multiple boss fights, and even the most simplistic games have high score tables and multiple levels of play. If Nintendo relented and started making mobile games, some of these could easily justify a buck spent at the App Store. For the price of free and as reward for a job well done playing one of the DS’ best games, they’re a steal and then some.
The ICO and Shadow of the Colossus Collection
For: Playstation 3
ESRB Rating: Teen (Blood, Violence)
With respect to the excellent high-definition remaster collections that preceded it over the last year or so, “The ICO and Shadow of the Colossus Collection” is and probably will remain this movement’s high-water mark. Amongst the thousands of games that have appeared since “ICO” and “Shadow of the Colossus” first appeared, none has done what they do quite like how they do it. If you’ve wanted to play something like them in HD, only the genuine articles can help get it done.
To this day, “ICO” remains one of a very precious few games that found a way to make escort missions — those traditionally dreadful sections where you have to drag some defenseless person around and fail the mission if the dead weight wanders off and dies — fun.
In fact, “ICO” builds an entire game around the idea — an impressive achievement by itself, but exponentially so considering the person in your care is even more fragile than your average escort mission partner.
It works, and well, because “ICO” is significantly more invested in elaborate environmental puzzle design than combat. Keeping your companion safe occasionally means fighting off the monsters who try to take her away, but mostly it means searching a large area for a path you can cross and a way to help your less capable companion do the same and meet you on the other side. The scale and design of the areas, coupled with a soft visual style and some strikingly sparse audio design, lend a unique exterior to the unique interior, and the combination of those forces is an adventure that truly feels adventurous.
Though the unique graphical style allowed “ICO” to age more gracefully than most PS2 games did, the high-definition bump — along with widescreen support, an optional stereoscopic 3D presentation and the addition of trophies and other PS3 amenities — is noticeable and welcome.
In the case of “Colossus,” though, the remastering is an absolute blessing.
“Colossus” migrates “ICO’s” visual and aural style to a vastly different world — one crawling with colossi who stand many screens tall and act on their own whims while players climb and traipse around them like living levels. Every colossus has its own mannerisms, makeup and weaknesses that allow your human-sized character to overcome it. The adventure amounts to little more than a game-long boss gauntlet, but the creative colossi designs made for a gauntlet that was challenging, visually awesome, tonally diverse and unlike anything that ever preceded it.
But that ambition carried a price, and the fee materialized as one seriously troubled framerate. The choppiness that plagued “Colossus” on the PS2 was acceptable only because no other game in existence had ever done this, but it was bothersome enough that even being one of a kind wasn’t enough to offset the framerate headaches that plagued many who tried it.
With this revamp, those headaches are gone. “Colossus” gets the same boost and benefits as “ICO,” but that steady, smooth framerate is by far the best present under this entire collection’s tree.
For: Playstation 3 (via Playstation Network) and Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade)
ESRB Rating: Everyone 10+ (cartoon violence)
For all “Burnout” has done for arcade racing, the Crash mode — a minigame in which you engineer the most epically expensive car-crash chain reaction you possibly can — remains its arguable hallmark. “Burnout Crash!” re-imagines the concept by replacing fast 3D action with a slower, top-down 2D style that more closely resembles a puzzle game than a high-octane driving game. Expensive wrecks remain the ultimate goal, but “Crash” adds a few additional objectives to each level, and a recharging Aftertouch system — which allows you to reignite your car and prolong a wreck — means these crashes are more methodically drawn out than the blistering collisions in a traditional “Burnout” game. Disappointed? If you come into “Crash” expecting speed and thrills, you likely will be. But taken purely as a puzzle game that merely borrows from rather than mimics the brand, “Crash” has plenty to like. There’s considerably more strategy than initially meets the eye when it comes to landing the skill shots and score combos necessary to master each intersection’s objectives, and while “Crash” is lenient about letting players advance through its levels, fulfilling every objective is a tall endeavor that engenders plenty of replays. The replay value is especially high for those who have friends also playing the game. “Crash’s” offline-only multiplayer allows only one person at a time to play, but its integration of EA’s excellent Autolog social networking platform makes it fun and easy to compare intersection damage reports and challenge your online friends to wreak pricier havoc than you.
Red Bull X-Fighters
Reviewed for: Xbox 360 (via Xbox Live Arcade)
Also available for: Windows PC, Playstation 3/PSP (via PSN Minis)
ESRB Rating: Everyone (mild language, mild violence)
It’s hard to describe “Red Bull X-Fighters” without blowing a kiss over to “Trials HD,” because much of what “RBXF” does was done two years ago in “Trials.” It’s a motorbike game, the events are a mix of stunt challenges and time trials, and even the design and semi-diagonal camera perspective are more than a little familiar. Fortunately, while “RBXF” isn’t fresh, it at least copies the idea competently. The bike physics are believable without being as unforgiving as they were in “Trials,” and the controls are a textbook case of easy to learn and tough to master. Basic riding and trick execution is elementary, but popping subtle wheelies for speed boosts and expertly timing an advanced trick that requires some seriously awkward simultaneous button presses (RT+RB+LT+Y+B) is anything but simple. “RBXF’s” bigger problem is content: There’s no multiplayer, nor is leaderboard integration anywhere near as polished as it was in “Trials.” There are fewer events and less variety to them as well. Trying to achieve gold trophy scores in every event is a beastly challenge that will keep the right kind of player busy for a good while, but those happy to just settle for bronze and go home can feasibly see all of “RBXF’s” tracks and events in a few hours’ time.