Mysteries, Monkeys, Music and More: A Nintendo Review Round-up

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donkey korg azran remix

Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy

Let’s face it friends: as it wraps up its second trilogy, the Professor Layton series is getting a bit long in the tooth. Its point-and-click gameplay, comical cast of characters and even its trademark brainteasers have become rather repetitive. Still, despite the franchise’s overall slip into predictability, Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is what it is – a gorgeously stylistic cartoon you can play on your morning commute.

This sixth domestic series release and the final chapter of its prequel trilogy – think Star Wars only with less fan disappointment and more delightful European caricatures – starts with the mystery of a “living mummy” and ends with a globetrotting adventure that culminates in a pretty interesting twist, even by Professor Layton standards. At the heart of the tale are the titular Azran relics, Professor Sycamore – think Pokémon X/Y only with less impressive hair – and the Targent organization introduced back in Miracle Mask, not to mention our trio of mystery-solvers, Luke, Emmy and the good Professor himself.

It’s a little hard to elucidate without things getting super-spoilery, but suffice it to say that while some puzzles and plot points feel like rehashes there’s more than enough new stuff to warrant a play-through. Polished touchscreen gameplay abounds, and there are easily as many hint coins to aid the clueless as there are new unlockables (“Dress Up” is a personal favorite) to reward the Layton faithful. In the end, Azran Legacy serves as a big finish that says goodbye to assistant Emmy Altava and hello to whatever new direction developer Level-5 decides to take the franchise in the future.

Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze

I’ll cop to the fact that I’ve never been a Donkey Kong Country fan, but even with that unfortunate prejudice I can’t deny that Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is some straight-up next gen platformin’ madness. More than just a throwback, Tropical Freeze mines a classic first-party property for a true HD adventure.

As the Snomads invade Donkey Kong Island, it’s up to DK, Diddy, Dixie and Cranky Kong to recapture their newly frozen home. This always lush and occasionally punishing side-scroller makes teamwork the order of the day as the support players – controlled in tandem with Donkey Kong or by an optional Player 2 – help the big guy by offering enhanced movement and additional attack types.

While Dixie and Diddy Kong are likely sentimental favorites, it was cantankerous oldster Cranky Kong that won me over with his DuckTales-style cane mechanic. Moves like this, coupled with Funky Kong’s purchasable buffs, make traversing six uniquely beautiful (and stunningly interactive) island environments a real joy, but don’t let that lure you into a false sense of security.

Tropical Freeze demands precision, and its difficulty slowly grows throughout all the island-hopping and requisite boss fights. That said, it’s such a competently designed title that I simply can’t knock it. In fact, I have only one complaint.

While the game looks great on your television or in the palms of your hand in its dedicated GamePad mode, it fails to do both at the same time. Maybe I’ve been spoiled by recent Mario Wii U games or perhaps I’m not appreciating the trouble Nintendo went to to preserve controller battery life, but looking down from the stunning graphics on my LCD television only to find a blank GamePad screen – with neither a map nor even a simple splash graphic visible in the standard play mode – never stopped seeming like a mild disappointment.

NES Remix

While I’ve just outed myself as being none-too-fond of Donkey Kong Country, I’ve always been a massive fan of the original Donkey Kong. NES Remix tosses that game and 15 of its old school compatriots into the mix in a series of pulse-pounding micro-challenges. It’s this high-pressure mechanic alone that makes seemingly simple actions – like finishing an Excitebike course without wrecking or collecting Rupees in The Legend of Zelda – so delightfully, addictively complicated.

Completing these mundane (and seemingly arbitrary) tasks unlocks retro-graphics stamps for use in the Miiverse as well as additional challenges both within the “core” titles and the new remix mode. Perhaps you’ll find yourself playing through an old favorite level in shadowy darkness, or even with a character sprite from an unrelated game. At any rate, NES Remix pits you against muscle memory and an often strict time limit, giving the entire affair a rather cruel speed run-style twist.

NES Remix is as fun as it is frustrating, and it’s precisely that dynamic that gives it such an undeniable appeal. (I’d relate to you the tale of a night of gaming lost to a particularly cruel take on the original Mario Bros. wherein the game screen scrolled in an endless loop from left to right while also slowly panning out from my hapless player character, but I’m afraid I can’t do so without employing all of my best swear words.)

I can’t overstate how much of a sweet spot this game hits for me, and, while I initially assumed I was alone in this thinking, the recently announced sequel seems to suggest that others are similarly infatuated with NES Remix. An enchanting downloadable that leans heavily on Nintendo’s lengthy history, I challenge adult gamers to give this one a go without succumbing to its many charms.

KORG M01D

Another eShop-only title – and one that originally slipped past me when released late last year – is the latest big name in 3DS music-making software. KORG M01D, the follow-up to the original DS release KORG DS-10 and its DSi upgrade, is a native 3DS version of KORG’s on-the-go synthesizer.

This mobile musical workstation is based on the KORG M1, widely regarded as the finest synth of its era, and it takes this retro aesthetic to heart with its green-on-black-LCD fixed system font and beautifully old school sound. Admittedly, it’s not for everybody, but if the concept of 24 voice-polyphony in an 8-track, 64-step, touchscreen-enabled sequencer sounds enticing then you’re likely in the proud minority.

Sure, in the iPhone Age touchscreen sequencers aren’t exactly a rarity, but the M01D‘s dedication to authentic detail makes it an interesting option. Using the 3DS stylus to freestyle keyboard melodies or manipulate sliders gives a level of precision not easily matched by a fingertip on a smartphone screen. There’s also a rather unexpected perk in the ease with which KORG M01D allows you to share your compositions with the world. MIDI can be sourced from your 3DS SD card and even transmitted via StreetPass. So, while not the only game in town, M01D certainly knows what its audience wants.

Review and promotional materials provided by: Nintendo of America

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