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February 18, 2005

Sean hangs with Wario and Star Fox on Nintendo's College Media Day

Innovation was the word of the weekend, as Nintendo demonstrated a sample of its spring line-up up at its College Media Day II in Seattle, Washington. Even though the games may sound unimpressive on paper, after getting to try them ourselves, we found that Nintendo's recent advertising campaign is actually on-target: Touching is good. Very good.

Star Fox: Assault (Gamecube, $50, released)

Sean: In an effort to free up in-house development teams, Nintendo took a gamble by handing out the development of Star Fox: Assault to well respected Namco. The result—a combination of traditional on-rails flying levels and new all-range ground and air missions—ends up being a mixed bag technically but ultimately one of the most fun shooters released this generation.

The Star Fox series, aside from the detour it took in the Gamecube's beautiful but shallow Star Fox Adventures, has always been about fast-paced twitch shooting and, once you've mastered that, racking up high scores. Namco took the newest rendition to a new level by adding new wide-open levels that start you knocking out targets on foot. The catch? You have a slow but powerful tank available for hunting targets and an Arwing in case you need to take to the skies and buy yourself more time. While the ground controls don't have the typical Nintendo smoothness, the sheer amount of action and vehicle options make these new missions frantic and very rewarding.

Most complaints have revolved around the fact that the game doesn't just throw these all-range missions as a diversion; in fact, they comprise over half of the game. However, other than the second level, when I was just learning the controls, I actually enjoyed the new take on the series.

Otherwise, the graphics are good, the orchestral music is phenomenal, and the voice acting is hokey but fun. The single-player game will last you only five hours the first run through (I played through the medium difficulty), but SF:A is built around replay value, of which it has plenty. The multiplayer clearly got a lot of the developer's attention, and it paid off. With a wide variety of unlockable maps and game modes, the experience is deep and takes advantage of the game's innovations. Best of all, you can customize the experience: Want flying only? Sniper rifles? Big maps with lots of hideouts? SF:A provides the most variety of any game in the series, and perhaps the most fun.

Rating: B+

Brandon: SF:A is a throwback to the series' roots, unlike the first Gamecube entry, which I enjoyed more than any of the shooting games. I'm not so sure that Namco, for all of its changes and refinements, got it right this time. As Sean said, the changes have been the cause of a lot of complaints, many of which are valid. It seems this game has tried to be too many things (your average flying and ground shooting with some exploration thrown in, much like Grand Theft Auto) instead of sticking to what it does best. By spreading itself thin, it lacks the tight Nintendo controlling we are used to.

That being said, I don't mean to fully discredit the game, because it still does possess many good qualities. Almost all of the missions, once you get past the controls, are action-packed, large-scale, and enjoyable. It has the best storyline of the series, and a fun multiplayer to top it off.

Rating: B

Wario Ware: Touched! (DS, $30, released)

Sean: When the Nintendo DS was first revealed with its dual screens, microphone, and touch-screen input, many questioned how truly innovative the system was. Would these features revolutionize anything, or were they just gimmicks that forced developers to change what works well?

Wario Ware: Touched! vindicates the system better than any other game released so far. For those who haven't played the first two games in the Wario Ware series, the game throws a series of five-second "microgames" at the player, often requiring a single task to be completed. Half of the difficulty is figuring out what the hell you're supposed to be doing, and the other is remaining focused as those five-second microgames are sped up to about two seconds.

Touched! uses the touch screen and microphone exclusively—the buttons don't do anything in the main game. The result is a fresh experience. "Finish!" has you drawing a slalom skier's path to the finish line before he reaches the end of the line you've drawn. "Extinguish!" will have you directing the water trickling from a Mannequin Pis imitation onto a fire. For some you'll have to blow into the microphone in order to get teenyboppers off of a basketball player. Because of the touch-screen control, this game will certainly be a new experience, and there's never been one so accessible to all types of gamers. The games are crazy and will make you laugh out loud. The cinemas are even more random.

The game's only serious problem is its length: It takes about two hours to unlock everything on a first play-through. That's not to say, however, that the game stops there. The Wario Ware series is built entirely around replay value, and it succeeds perfectly as a quick pick-up-and-play game. Multiplayer would have been nice but is understandably difficult, given that you are unable to see the other person's screen. All in all, Touched! is my favorite DS game yet.

Rating: A

Brandon: Another great innovation by Nintendo, which has perfectly adapted the series to fit the DS system. Like Sean said, with this game Nintendo has shown that features like the touch screen and microphone have great practical use and contribute to another outrageously fun and fast collection of microgames. My favorite addition to this version was the interactive cut scenes preceding each character's challenges (also providing comic relief). The game feels short, however. It seemed as though I was able to unlock all the characters in a matter of a few hours, but replay value is key to this genre and the game has plenty of it. The remix levels keep me coming back to try to better my high scores. They are so fast and unpredictable that you don't know what to expect next, keeping this game challenging no matter how many times you play it.

Rating: A

Editor's Note: Brandon Castor is a student at Michigan State University and a staff writer for World Press.