Category: Previews

The Wonderful Characters of The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds

One of the things I’ve been enjoying the most about The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds is the way Hyrule has been fleshed out with unique characters. From key players returning from A Link to the Past to shopkeepers borne straight out of the pages of the original Legend of Zelda’s instruction manual, the sheer variety of characters in the game makes this decades-old version of Hyrule feel lived-in, rather than just recycled.

One of my favorite new characters introduced in A Link Between Worlds is the bard, who, along with his little buddy with the flute, plays stunning renditions of dozens of classic Legend of Zelda tunes. It’s not a particularly innovative little Easter egg — RPGs have been doing this for decades — but for fans of the series’ excellent music, it’s just nice to be able to hear some new renditions of some of our old favorites.

Check out this brief video featuring the bard’s rendition of “Zelda’s Lullaby,” first heard in A Link to the Past and made popular in Ocarina of Time:

The Legend of Zelda: A Link Between Worlds comes out next friday, November 22nd; our review will hit this Thursday at 10AM PST. Stay tuned!

Liberation Maiden @IGN, plus some exciting site announcements

Happy Halloween! To celebrate, we’ve got some more IGN-exclusive content written by your favorite Executive Editor at Invisible Gamer:

Liberation Maiden: Fast, Loud, and Clumsy, Like Rock & Roll!

In other equally awesome news, I’d like to congratulate Brien Bell, who’s been promoted to Managing Editor of Invisible Gamer, and welcome Eric R. Miller, who will be joining the ranks of Invisible Gamer with some new content that’s so awesome I don’t even know what it is yet! Seriously!

Brien, congrats, and Eric, we can’t wait to see what you’ve got!

p.s. if anyone can name the game character depicted in this pumpkin I carved, you win a cookie!

PAX Prime 2012 Hands-On: SimCity (2013)

The one big disappointment for me at E3 2012 was not finding the time to sit down with the new SimCity from Maxis and EA in between my appointments and crazy schedule. The Sim City franchise, primarily earlier games such as Sim City, Sim City 2000, Sim Tower, and Sim Copter, helped stoke my early PC gaming flames, renewed and rekindled more recently by the latest iterations of Civilization and Portal. While certainly not accustomed to hardcore, real-time strategy games such as Starcraft or XCOM, the deliberate nature of the Sim City games—strategic planning, resource allocation, gradual development—helped craft the type of gamer I am today. My sadness at not having found time to see the new SimCity even led me to do something I swore I’d never do: play a Facebook game (Sim City Social, announced at EA’s press conference that week).

Upon arrival at the Washington State Convention Center, I was disappointed to learn that while Electronics Arts was present in a limited capacity on the show floor of the Penny Arcade Expo no representatives from Maxis were on hand to demonstrate the newest entry in the venerable franchise. But, lo and behold, I was not out of luck—tucked away in a far corner, at a booth I didn’t quite expect to find it at, were a prized few PCs running the game I’d been waiting two months to play. NVIDIA, purveyor of fine computer hardware, had several top-of-the-line GEForce GTX graphics cards running SimCity on extremely high-end PCs, presenting an experience that I will likely never have with that game (unless I happen upon someone with a couple grand lying around to build the gaming rig of my dreams… if you know anyone, my e-mail is brien@invisiblegamer.net).

Throwing on a pair of headphones—I’m still amazed I didn’t leave Seattle with the PAX Plague, as so many others have in the past—I set to work on this pre-alpha build of the game. Immediately I was struck by two things: the game’s complex yet intuitive mechanics, and it’s incredible technical beauty. The controls of the game are similar to most previous Sim City efforts: as Mayor of your town, you have the ability to build roads, zone your map for residential, commercial, and industrial areas, and provide utilities such as water and power for your citizens, each of these options and more controlled via a menu at the bottom of your screen. While the demo was limited to five minutes, and scripted to give you an idea of how everything worked together as a cohesive whole, it may have been one of the most satisfying demos I’ve played in recent memory. There was never a scenario presented where I could not find the right menu option, or select the correct area on the map. Initially I had difficulty controlling the camera, but found that with practice and a bit of patience that navigation was simple and effective. I especially appreciated one of the newest features of SimCity, not present in previous iterations, in the ability to curve your roads. This one small change made a world of difference in crafting the structure of my city to fit the terrain, as well as my own aesthetic sensibilities.

As for the beauty, that was evident from the get go. Besides the graphical fidelity, the small details were there. Your town is just barely considered that upon your taking control, and the condition of your citizens and their homes helped cement that you had a lot of work to do. Without schools, your Sims are less educated; thus have lower paying jobs and a low standard of living, evidenced by the ramshackle houses that litter the outskirts of your hamlet. Those same Sims are more prone to do dumb things, like light their houses on fire, conveniently teaching you of the need for firehouses and medical centers. Not all your Sims are happy with their lot in life, and you’ll find that if you aren’t making the right decisions, they’ll show up at City Hall demanding change—including change in leadership if you’re not careful. But this is the beauty of SimCity and its’ rich emergent gameplay: you never quite know what is around the corner… as I found when the demo came to an abrupt halt with the devastation of my town by imminent meteor impact.

While I would probably make a lousy city planner, the Sim Cities of my childhood helped me imagine a world constructed based on my imagination and fueled by my creativity. The charm of those games is recaptured in next year’s SimCity, and if this early preview is any indication I’ll be sinking many more hours into my PC than I have in the past, reveling in the return to form of a franchise I’d fallen away from but had never forgotten. Look for SimCity in February 2013 on EA’s Origin client, and at your local retailer.

[Full Disclosure: all images in this preview are from the official SimCity Facebook page, which can be found at http://www.facebook.com/SimCity.]

The Denpa Men: Awkward And Loving It

Well, this is exciting: due to the popularity of my 3DS XL shell swapping Guide, IGN has asked me to help them out with 3DS eShop coverage while they’re swamped with Wii U and other holiday releases.

Here’s the first preview I’ve written for them. It’s IGN-exclusive content, but nobody said I can’t link you to it! Enjoy.

The Denpa Men: Awkward and Loving It

E3 2012: Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate Hands-on!

You know, maybe it’s time to let Metroid: Dread go. There’ve been so many great open-ended platformers not starring Samus Aran released over the past half-decade that each new release makes it more and more difficult to justify lugging that torch around. Based on my time with Castlevania: Lords of Shadow – Mirror of Fate at this year’s E3, Spanish developer MercurySteam is set to provide yet another reason to put Dread to bed…assuming it addresses a few glaring issues before the game ships this fall.

Unlike the first Lords of Shadow, which went all 3D action-adventurey, the 3DS game falls firmly into the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” camp of 2D Castlevania goodness. But don’t expect sprites: Mirror of Fate is actually running on a modified version of the original Lords of Shadow engine, enhanced by a sterescopic parallax scrolling effect that renders moonlit castle grounds and rotting dungeons with an appropriate amount of moodiness and mystery. In addition to porting LoS’s striking visuals to the smaller system, MercurySteam has also adapted the previous game’s God of War-like combat to Mirror’s 2D plane, but the results aren’t quite as impressive: attacking feels floaty and imprecise, like a smartphone game being controlled with real buttons. It works well enough for larger targets – an in-air dodge mechanic makes the demo’s two bosses particularly easy to deal with – but encounters with typical enemies (i.e. the omnipresent skeletons and bats) never quite engage like they do in more recent portable entries in the series.

Compared to more recent releases like Shadow Complex, Monster Tale, or Aliens: Infestation, which feel like natural extensions of the games that inspired them, Mirror of Fate can seem awfully clunky, and slow. Luckily, the open-ended exploration that is a staple of the series is as rewarding as ever, though it’s impossible to tell at this point whether progress is tied organically to your character’s accrued abilities, or whether it’s all switches and multicolored keys. In the demo, players guide protagonist Trevor Belmont through the dilapidated ruins of Dracula’s castle, ostensibly on a quest to enact vengeance upon his mother’s murderer, and most of the backtracking required to reach the final section revolves around flipping switches or crossing arbitrary checkpoints to unlock previously unreachable areas. It all seems a bit rudimentary compared to other recent series entries, but then again, it is just a demo.

It’s worth noting that Mirror of Fate is actually Metroidvania in denial! But I’m okay with that. I fully expect once MercurySteam gets over its odd aversion to silly labels, we’ll be looking at another awesome addition to the 3DS’s library.

E3 2012 Best of Show: Retro City Rampage – Better Than Death and Taxes

Of all the mysteries of E3 2012 (trust me, this year’s event was full of ‘em), perhaps the biggest was the dozens of Vita demos peppered across Sony’s booth that the company completely failed to acknowledge during its Monday night press conference. Did someone tell Tretton and co., “if you build it, they will come,” or what? Here’s a little bit of free advice, Sony: if you want people to buy your games, it’s probably a bad idea to rely only on word-of-mouth marketing. I know that it costs a lot of money to quote J.K. Rowling in your PowerPoint deck, but yeesh…couldn’t you at least have thrown a few more logos up in that bitch?

Nearly every game on display at Sony’s Vita demo stations – including first-party stunners like Gravity Rush and Sly Cooper, re-releases of console classics like Jet Set Radio, and unique PSN exclusives like the oddly charming WarioWare knockoff Frobisher Says – would seem to suggest that the Vita is in for a great year, assuming Sony actually wants people to know these games exist. But there was one title that stood out among an already fantastic assortment of software: a game that celebrates the joys of gaming more than all the press conferences, celebrity endorsements, and booth babes the ESA could cram into twenty years worth of E3s.

The game is Retro City Rampage, a top-down, open-world action game that began life in 2002 as Grandtheftendo, an 8-bit demake of GTA III that creator Brian Provinciano originally intended to release as homebrew code for the NES. In the decade since development first began on the project, it’s evolved not only into a full-blown commercial product set for release on nearly every digital game service you can think of (except the 3DS eShop…d’oh!), but into something entirely distinct from its biggest influence – something Provinciano calls an “open-world action parody.”

Early in RCR’s development – before Provinciano had hired a team of dedicated pixel artists and chiptune musicians to give it the unique flavor it has today – he began peppering RCR with references to all his favorite movies, TV shows, and video games as a fun way to learn the ins and outs of assembly language programming. The influences are immediately apparent, and they help RCR stand out in an already crowded landscape of “retro-influenced” indie games. The top-down perspective and vehicle handling are, of course, reminiscent of Grand Theft Auto, but where RCR really shines is in its constant and shameless parodying of pretty much any staple of 80′s pop culture you can think of. An early cut scene, meant to explain the motivations of playable character “The Player,” is almost frame-for-frame identical to the title preamble of Mega Man 2, complete with a music track that sounds suspiciously similar to Manami Matsumae’s composition for Mega Man 2. As the scene pans to the top of the building, we see The Player standing, essentially, in Mega Man’s footprints, but broadcasting more sinister intentions. This building is home to the “Stoogemac $Bank$,” and The Player is going to rob it!

In the year 20XX, Retro City Rampage finally became a reality.

In the hands of the wrong developer, RCR could have come across as little more than fan-fiction: fun for a few seconds, but ultimately forgettable. Fortunately, the underlying gameplay – a mix of on-foot and vehicle-based shooting and exploration, side-scrolling platforming, cover-based shooting, stealth, and many others  – fuses expertly with art and sound design that make RCR’s world feel like a Toontown of sorts for the myriad pop-culture universes from which it borrows. Remember those playground conversations of decades past, where you and your friends dreamed up the ultimate video game? You know…where you got to rob Scrooge McDuck’s gold vault with the Joker from Batman? And then Frogger died crossing the road but you one-upped him using Sonic the Hedgehog’s red shoes to get to the other side and hit the crosswalk button, but then the traffic wouldn’t stop so, so…and then Joker blows ‘em all up and then you lose all the loot and go on an adventure through time with Doc Emmett Brown’s DeLorean AND Bill and Ted’s gnarly phone booth, because who wants one time machine when you could have TWO? But then the phone booth breaks and you have to use Nintendo parts to fix it, because what the hell is a flux capacitor anyway?

If this sounds at all familiar or appealing, you’re in luck: it all plays out in the first ten minutes of RCR. And that’s ultimately what makes the game a success: it was dreamed up by someone just like you used to be, back before you grew up, got a job, started paying off loans, and filed for divorce. Back then, you didn’t care about the cost of licensing Beatles tunes for your video game, or getting Joe Montana to show up to your birthday party; you just knew what you wanted the world to be like, and for those few minutes between fractions and world geography, you made it happen. Provinciano and his collaborating artists and musicians remember recess too, and they know it beats the pants off the alternative.

Even the worst games are fun when viewed through the right lens.

Retro City Rampage is due out at the end of the summer for PS Vita, PS3, Wii, Xbox 360, and PC. Don’t miss it, or I’m gonna sick the A-Team on you.

E3 2012: XCOM: Enemy Unknown Demo Impressions


X-Com: UFO Defense’s parasitic chrysalid is back, and more terrifying than ever.

One thing is clear from the beginning of 2K Games’ XCOM: Enemy Unknown E3 demo – Firaxis’ re-imagining is infinitely more cinematic than MicroProse’s 1994 classic. If you’ve played the original, you’ll understand this isn’t really a huge feat of engineering, since most of the narrative in the original game played out via text-based status reports delivered at the end of each in-game month, but still: the use of cut-scenes before, during, and after missions adds a nice touch of context to the objectives your squad is tasked with carrying out.

The demo I saw in 2K’s booth, which takes place much later in the game than anything that’s been shown so far, is based on one of the original X-Com’s infamous terror missions, and it opens appropriately with quick, low-angle shots of a city burning while its citizens are tortured and murdered by invading forces. From there, the demo cuts to the actual gameplay, where a small squad of XCOM operatives is surrounded by plasma-blasting Heavy Floaters, melee-based Berserkers, and a psionics-wielding Sectoid commander that is using its mind control ability to make soldiers “eat their own grenades,” as the 2K rep narrating the demo so eloquently put it. The XCOM unit is on its last legs, and a decision is made by HQ to send in what Firaxis is dubbing a “Reaper Squad” – an elite team of operatives that is faster, stronger, and all around better-equipped to handle the alien menace.

It seems as if the tide will turn, but the triumph is short-lived as a couple of the game’s most terrifying alien units, the parasitic Chrysalids, sweep in and start doing “their thing.” For those of you who haven’t experienced this series before, that “thing” is one of the most insidious tactics the aliens have at their disposal. They move in quickly, infecting humans with a zombifying virus that turns them over to the enemy forces; at this point, players have little choice but to destroy their own squad members, or the civilians they’re supposed to protect. If the infected isn’t killed quickly enough, it turns into a chrysalid itself, and XCOM operatives soon become overwhelmed by enemy forces.


With XCOM: Enemy Unknown, Firaxis wisely sticks closely to the gameplay of the original.

The chrysalids of Firaxis’ XCOM are reminiscent of the warrior bugs in Starship troopers in that they now move around on four spindly, scythe-like legs – a change that may rankle long-time fans, but one that serves to explain how they’re able to move so quickly. In the original game, an infected unit’s flesh would sort of slough off as a new chrysalid was being born, but the birthing animation in the new game is even more effective: infected humans bend over backwards, hands and legs on the ground like they’re crab walking, and explode in a mess of gore as the chrysalid’s limbs burst out of the their arms and legs, with the rest of the revolting creature’s body popping out of the infected’s abdomen.

It seems as if the XCOM operatives aren’t going to make as a couple of them fall prey to the chrysalids, but the Reaper Squad manages to contain the situation before the enemy multiplies to an unmanageable level. The captain of the Reaper Squad – none other than the creator of Civilization himself, Sid Meier – has a surprise in store for the aliens: a psionics expert himself, Meier uses the Sectoid’s commander’s strategy against it, using mind control to force Heavy Floaters to detonate their own grenades, instantly killing them.


A Heavy Floater hunts down Hendrik “Hawks” Mulder.

Despite a camera that seems to capture the intensity of each conflict from the most dynamic angle possible, it’s pretty clear that Firaxis’ XCOM update hasn’t changed much from the game it’s based on, which is certainly a good thing, as MicroProse’s game is generally considered one of the best strategy games ever made. The only real change I witnessed during 2K’s brief demo was the introduction of a grappling hook, used by XCOM units to quickly reach elevated terrain – a most certainly welcome change to anyone who remembers what it’s like to watch an X-Com unit “jump” off the top of a building in the original game.

The demo closes with a triumphant XCOM force ready to tackle its next challenge: a hulking, two legged walker, called a Sectopod, that’s grown a bit since its 1994 incarnation and now towers over XCOM units like a mini Metal Gear. It’s clear Firaxis is having fun with the license, and I can’t wait to see how XCOM: Enemy Unknown fares when it’s released on October 9th, 2012.

Super Mario 3DS: Crash Raccoondicoot

Ever since Satoru Iwata’s tanooki-tinged tease at GDC in March, Super Mario for the 3DS has been my most anticipated game of the year. But after Nintendo announced in May it’d be unveiling its new console at E3, I was a little worried that I simply wouldn’t have time to play Mario. It was my first time attending, I didn’t know what to expect, and given the choice between playing something that I already suspected would be awesome and testing out an entirely new piece of technology mere hours after it was first revealed to the world, well, the correct choice seemed pretty obvious. Luckily, it wasn’t a choice I’d have to make, as Nintendo wisely set up 3DS demo stations in the pavilion outside of the Nokia Theatre after its media presentation on Tuesday morning, so attendees had ample time to go hands-on with all the hottest new first-party 3DS titles before the E3 show floor even opened.

I rushed straight to the Super Mario demo station and dug greedily into the first of four levels being demoed. I grinned uncontrollably as the familiar greens and yellows of the Mushroom Kingdom  stretched back into the depths of the 3DS’s display, Mario waiting to be commanded, a big brown “raccoon leaf” sitting in the middle of the touch screen, simply begging to be utilized. I resisted the tail’s call long enough to get a feel for Mario’s handling on the 3DS’s circle pad. At first, Mario was conspicuously sluggish – I was pushing the circle pad as far as it would go – and then I realized the Y button was used to run. Interesting choice, that, though it certainly didn’t feel out of place…at least, in comparison to the 2D Mario games. I experimented a bit with some of Mario’s moves, ducking and rolling effortlessly under a cross beam, stomping goombas and wall jumping like it was old hat.

And then I pulled down the raccoon leaf, donned the ridiculously cute tanooki suit, and received my first shock: this tanooki can’t fly! Sure, Mario could spin and thwack enemies with his tail, and even flutter slowly to the ground, furiously kicking his stubby legs and holding his arms out as if struggling to keep his balance, but what the heck, Miyamoto-san? Miyamoto would go on to reveal that he felt the screen was “too small” to allow Mario to fly, though that seems like a cop-out to me as Pilotwings Resort, Starfox 64 3D, and even Super Mario 64 DS all handle flying exceptionally well on the small screen.

I received my next shock when I completed the level in less than 3 minutes and realized this was nothing like the fusion of Super Mario 64 and Super Mario Galaxy that Miyamoto suggested earlier this year. Well, okay, it wasn’t what I was expecting based on those hints: the wide-open level designs and free-roaming gameplay of the former with all the visual refinements and gameplay tweaks of the latter. Yes, the graphics are certainly up to par with the Mario Galaxy games – Super Mario 3DS is a perfect marriage of the 3DS’s graphical capabilities and Nintendo’s unbeatable art design – and none of these levels would necessarily feel out of place in Super Mario 64. What was really unexpected was how close this all felt to Crash Bandicoot. These bite-sized chunks of platforming goodness have been built around the principles of 8- and 16-bit Mario design – midway checkpoints, exploration generally confined to a strict path – but played out on a three-dimensional plane that allows players to guide Mario left, right, into, and out of the screen, frequently along strict 90-degree angles…very much like the early Crash games.

Also unexpected, but sensible given the 3DS’s limited selection of buttons: a camera that allowed for barely any adjustment, doing nothing more than putting a slight angle on the view already afforded to players. In fact, I realized after my third death while trying to make a difficult jump to an out-of-the-way star coin that this limited camera was the cause of the problem. The system’s stereoscopic 3D effect is quite handy when it comes to judging distances between platforms, but players have been trained by titles like Super Mario 64 to use their camera to look for a “better view” while trying to make these kinds of jumps, and I suspect this will be quite a point of contention if it isn’t tweaked by the time the game is released.


If it sounds like I’m down on Super Mario 3DS, well, that’s not the case at all. In fact, when I was feeling jaded by other disappointments on the show floor – an incredibly limited PS Vita demo that I waited nearly 4 hours to play, or an improperly calibrated Wii MotionPlus spoiling my time with The Legend of Zelda: Skyward Sword – I’d think about Super Mario 3DS, and how I just wanted to play it again, and again, and again. And I did: I went back to the Super Mario 3DS demos stations repeatedly throughout the week, finding something new to smile about each time – goombas with raccoon tails, a half-sized Mario making his first appearance in a 3D entry in the series, Boom-Boom Koopa waiting at the end of an airship level (I’ll take anything as long as it isn’t Bowser, Jr.) Super Mario 3DS stayed on my mind pretty much the entire week I was in LA, and I think this speaks volumes for the timeless appeal of these games. Mario’s still got it, and I would be shocked if this game didn’t sell at least a few million 3DS systems. Especially if they bundle it with the red one they denied us at launch.

While Super Mario 3DS didn’t quite end up being game of the show for me (that distinction actually belongs to one of the Wii U tech demos, which I’ll be talking about later this week), it’s still my most anticipated title of 2011. I’d like to think Nintendo will make a few adjustments to the camera system and the tanooki suit before the title ships this year, but even if they don’t, I can’t wait to go back to this newest version of the Mushroom Kingdom.