Nintendo’s Other Holiday Offerings

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Kirby's Return to Dream Land logoKirby's Return to Dream Land logoThough I even have to remind myself of this fact, Nintendo’s fourth quarter releases aren’t strictly limited to Zelda and Mario titles. While those games have rightly earned the lion’s share of attention from both gamers and reviewers, there are actually a handful of other first-party releases that likewise warrant some space in the hearts (and holiday wish lists) of the Nintendo faithful.

Pushmo screen shotPushmo screen shot

Duck or Chocobo?

The most recent example is newly released 3DS downloadable Pushmo. While the premise of a sumo wrestler solving block push/pull puzzles to rescue stranded children is… well, ludicrous, the gameplay displays a simple genius that is only matched by the visual charm of its bold and blocky art style. At $6.99, it’s not exactly the cheapest offering on the eShop, but with an expansive number of core levels and the option to create and share your own, it’s an easy recommendation for those looking to supplement their 3DS libraries.

On the console side, Nintendo’s latest Wii release is actually the American debut of a long running Square Enix co-produced series in its native Japan. Fortune Street is, in the simplest of terms, Mario Party meets Monopoly. Add to this characters from both the Mario and Dragon Quest series, and you’ve got an odd but generally satisfying virtual board game.

From a simplified American rule set where you merely roll the dice, buy properties and build upon them to increase other players’ rent when they stumble into your territory to the more expansive traditional rules wherein strategy is truly key, there’s a certain scalability to the game. Supplementing the core principle of buying land and collecting suits (the game’s innovative play on “passing Go”), these standard rules incorporate a stock and dividend system that, while it does provide Fortune Street with an interesting new level of gameplay, will surely prove daunting to new players.

Fortune Street screen shotFortune Street screen shot

This kind of chatter gets old quick.

This actually underscores the split personality of the title; it is a game that is both often too complex and convoluted, with marathon play sessions commonplace with those Standard Rules matches, and one whose cutesy nature, as demonstrated by the computer-controlled players’ constant and inane chatter, dulls its hardcore edge. Still, there’s much fun to be had with Fortune Street if you follow a few simple rules: set the gameplay speed to its highest level, turn off the in-game flavor text, don’t be afraid to use Free Play mode to check out the game’s inspired selection of boards and always, always keep your eye on the victory conditions.

Fossil Fighters Champions screen shotFossil Fighters Champions screen shot

Kids love Technicolor dinos.

Even for those of us that totally missed the first chapter of the franchise in 2009, Fossil Fighters: Champions goes to great lengths to bring the player up to speed within the first 20 or so minutes of gameplay. Straddling the line between monster collection titles like Pokémon and the more traditional party-based combat and gravity-defying hairstyles of games like the aforementioned Dragon Quest, the game takes place in a world where dinosaur fossils are carefully excavated, resurrected through the power of science (SCIENCE!) and pitted against their fellows in arena combat.

These “Vivosaurs” – revived dinosaurs – give Fossil Fighters definite kid appeal, but the real surprise is how well it pulls off its individual gameplay elements. The fighting is well balanced and nuanced, with variables like attack range and elemental type playing into a successful match, but the hands-on activities like digging for and cleaning fossils do a lot to make it feel like more than just another Poké-clone.

Still, while all these games – as enjoyable as they may be by their own merits – are easily outshone by <a title="Mario Kart 7 Earns Numerous Accolades (and a Few Dubious Honors)” href=”http://www.wired.com/geekdad/2011/12/mario-kart-7/”>Mario Kart 7, 3D Land and Skyward Sword, one second-stringer has handily won over me and my family. Though we all adored Mass Attack and Epic Yarn, I’ll admit that I underestimated Kirby’s Return to Dream Land when it initially dropped in late October.

Since that time it’s proven a truly engaging cooperative multiplayer experience. Controlled with the ever popular sideways Wii Remote, Kirby, Meta Knight, King Dedede and Waddle Dee join forces to help alien visitor Magolor repair his damaged spacecraft, the pieces of which have been scattered throughout their world. The supporting players certainly hold their own in most situations, but the shining star of all this frenetic side-scrolling combat is certainly the titular puffball. (In fact, the game allows multiple players to control various colored Kirbys to take full advantage of the fun to be had copying enemy abilities.)

Kirby's Return to Dream Land screen shotKirby's Return to Dream Land screen shot

The Super Abilities are super fun!

With gameplay that’s challenging at times but very rarely frustrating, collectible Energy Spheres that unlock minigames and bonus content and a few last-minute twists that give the simplistic plot legs, Return to Dream Land is a thoroughly enjoyable if sadly overlooked Wii title.

The addition of giant-sized Super Abilities stolen from specialized enemies, a wealth of content both within the core experience and without and a series of canvas-textured cutscenes that – and I know I’m gonna catch hell for this – actually seem more appropriate than those in the most recent chapter of the Zelda saga, it’s definitely worth a look. And with its shared life pool and intuitive controls, it should rightly be the title you and your geeklings explore during their lengthy holiday break.

While the aforementioned games are more than mere serviceable diversions, Kirby’s Return to Dream Land is an unsung contemporary classic. It’s both deep enough to qualify as a game for true gamers and inviting enough so as not to alienate the untested, whether they’re six or 60.

Review materials provided by: Nintendo of America

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