It's always a thrill (especially for us gamers of the bit-war era) to see Mario and Sonic duke it out. Mario & Sonic at the Sochi 2014 Olympic Winter Games is as good a venue as any to support your preferred publisher as well as your country. The updated visuals and online functionality are welcome improvements, but if you've already spent hours nailing high scores and low times four years ago, the events haven't changed drastically enough to warrant two purchases.
The Mario Party series has been around for a long time now, yet even after so many iterations, it doesn't feel like each subsequent entry is a departure from its predecessor. In some cases, that is a good thing, but in Mario Party's case, it needs more than new music and a spin on game boards to evoke a sense of innovation. The mini-games must be more than simple variations of past offerings or lackluster uses of system features (like the touch screen and microphone). And the series absolutely needs online multiplayer, no exception. That said, I still had fun with Mario Party: Island Tour, and it was nice to have a brief but satisfying match while out and about.
Daedalic may have had the intent to spin a tale of treachery and malevolence with Blackguards, but from the outset you'll find that each character has a conscience that is rarely tested, ultimately weaving an only slightly less-than-virtuous tale. That being said, every encounter is exciting and challenging, and the massive amount of class tailoring gives you plenty of reasons to replay the adventure and sample different character choices. It's a great foundation, especially for a game developer not accustomed to the genre, and I am eager to see if Daedalic can do anything more with the series, be it with a sequel, new content, or tools for players to create their own adventures.
The list of first-party titles for the Wii U is growing, with several big titles on the release list this year. Donkey Kong Country: Tropical Freeze is a great way to start the year for Nintendo. It has an endearing quality that will capture you, and a challenge level worthy of even the most skilled players. The new characters and online features add just enough extras to keep things fresh. If you're craving an old-school platformer, need a break from all the shooters and MMOs, and just can't get enough of DK's snappy red tie, this is an absolute must buy for you.
Professor Layton and the Azran Legacy is the apt way to finish the trilogy, tidying up all the loose ends of the prequel series, and leaving a fresh start as Layton and Luke drive towards a "Curious Village". The puzzles may have a slight lack of originality, but they are superbly crafted yet not overbearing. I would have enjoyed some more engaging minigames, but there are still plenty of other diversions to lose dozens of hours in. It's bittersweet to envision this as the final game for Hershel Layton. I feel like the series has run its proper course, but still find it hard to swallow a future without a game as unique as Professor Layton.
I was more than a little disappointed in the lack of challenge and overall content in Yoshi's New Island. The features that are included lack cohesion, and the bare bones multiplayer is laughable. Nintendo could argue that the design of the series is meant for a younger audience, yet I was twenty-seven when I played Yoshi's Island DS and thoroughly enjoyed it. Yoshi has had some grand adventures of his own, but sadly this is not one of them.
Eleven years is far too long of a gap for a series of this caliber, though we can set those complaints aside for awhile, as Age of Wonders III has the potential to keep you hooked for a good long time. Whether playing a campaign against the computer or taking on eight other players in a random map, it bears the hallmark only a few empire building games have--the addiction to take "just one more turn". With a half-dozen classes, each with exclusive skills, spells, and units to unlock, as well as countless more denizens to discover, each playthrough is bound to reveal something new and interesting for you to enjoy.
Despite a few control issues and the desire for more engaging audio and visuals, the brimming content and excellent gameplay in Mario Golf: World Tour leaves the flaws well behind. The pace is perfect, whether you spend just a couple of minutes on challenges and training minigames, or breeze through eighteen holes in under half-an-hour. The collectibles beg to be purchased, and the bragging rights through the multiplayer features are beyond anything we've seen in prior Mario Golf titles. It fits the system perfectly, it will fit your schedule perfectly, and it always has something enticing to come to back to.
Despite my criticism of some of the modes and gameplay mechanics, Mario Kart 8 is still an amazing game, and as intense and addicting as its predecessors. I may wish for a better Battle Mode and more online features, but I have happily raced hundreds of matches, and expect thousands more for many months, and even years, to come. There is not a single blemish in the track design and detailing, and handling the vehicles is tight and responsive, whether using the analog stick or tilt controls. Mario Kart 8 is perfect in most respects, but a few features are still bound by Nintendo's restrictive hand.
Like Bastion before it, Transistor is a lovingly crafted game by a dedicated and tight knit group of developers who strive not only to present us with a technically polished title, but one that keeps us interested throughout the entire journey. Though I personally would have liked more of a two-sided relationship between Red and the Transistor, I acknowledge the direction the designers were aiming for. Beyond that, the combat system is the most flexible and empowering I have seen in any game. Having dashed through the story in a mere seven hours, the New Game+ mode called Recursion allows me to keep my level and Functions intact, which is a good thing because there are still dozens of different combinations I'm eager to test out on the newly updated and tougher Process before me. At a bargain twenty dollars, Transistor is a refreshing and original adventure that every gamer should experience.