Giana Sisters: pretenders to the Mushroom Kingdom crown

In 1987 a humble little game with a difficult-to-pronounce title and cover art that makes me grin every time I see it was loosed on various consoles including the Atari ST and Commodore 64. The Great Giana Sisters is only one of many games of the era that took its cues from the near-inimitable Super Mario Bros, but this game did such a good and successful knock-off job that Nintendo mobilized the lawyers and Giana was eventually withdrawn from sale.

gianacoverThe 26 years that followed held some interesting turns for the Giana brand. Creator Armin Gessert founded Spellbound Entertainment in 1994, which developed mid-tier games for 15 years before releasing a brand new Giana Sisters game for the Nintendo DS. Unfortunately Gessert died of a heart attack that same year, and in 2012 Spellbound went into administration.

From the ashes of that company though came Black Forest Games, a group whose first order of business was to hit up Kickstarter and fund a brand new Giana Sisters game for the modern age.

See while side-scrolling arcade platformers with an emphasis on precision, tight control and interesting character abilities was plagiarism in 1987, and a drop in the ocean on DS in 2009, today it’s something many players are dying to return to after the inflation of Hollywood AAA games and the perceived dumbing-down of Nintendo’s own 2D platformers.

After a successful Kickstarter campaign and a release last year, Giana Sisters: Twisted Dreams — billed by Black Forest as the spiritual ‘grandchild’ to the original Great Giana Sisters — is now arriving on Nintendo’s Wii U.

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Nintendo spotlights Wii U indie titles

Before the Wii U released, Nintendo was talking a big game in regards to shedding their former insular work practices and opening up to both third party and indie developers. Of course a combination of issues meant that third party support never actually eventuated, but recent rumblings from the indie community have hinted that Nintendo are still out there signing self-publishing deals with indies and bringing smaller-scale third party publishers on board. During the European-specific portion of yesterday’s Nintendo Direct broadcast, Ninty made a statement with a sizzle reel of 18 upcoming games, all from European or Australian indie developers. Check out the video here if you haven’t already, then join me below for a look at a few of these games and what they could mean for Wii U.

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Ridiculous Fishing’s brilliant twitter integration

If you’re into iOS gaming chances are you’ve heard of Ridiculous Fishing, the seafaring shoot-em-up from the minds that brought us Super Crate Box. The game’s a stand out not just for its brilliant aesthetic, captivating premise and intuitive controls, but also because it manages to utilise all the great expanded features of recent hits like Pixel People (endless progression through unlockables, social connectivity) without any of the hassles that come with them (punishing micro-transactions, spamming your facebook wall).

In fact everything from the way Ridiculous Fishing scales difficulty to player skill to the rate at which it nourishes you with new junk to buy is very refreshing and considered, but the star of the show as far as innovations go is the fun and crazy social promotion mechanism found in Byrdr – the game’s very own contextualized version of twitter.

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Trine 2: Director’s Cut review

A puzzle-platforming fan’s greatest fantasy

Release date: Nov 18 (US), Nov 30 (AU, EU) Platform: Wii U

Trine 2 is a very special game. It takes the promises and ambitions of the original Trine – organically-integrated puzzles, clever platforming, a seamless blend of the age-old warrior/mage/thief trinity – and delivers it all in a refined, bloat-free package. The Director’s Cut for Wii U continues that spirit of refinement.

The game is prettier than it’s ever been before, owing to entirely new graphical effects, detail and assets. It’s more technically sound than ever too – boasting advanced anti-aliasing, a rock-hard framerate and the sharpest resolution yet on a console version of the game. This is the most complete version of Trine 2 on a console, containing all the incremental updates that have been added since its original release, as well as the full expansion Goblin Menace, previously only available on PC. It’s also been fully retrofitted to take advantage of the Wii U’s unique controller, meaning you can use the touchscreen to switch weapons, aim, and conjure magical objects, and you can even play the whole game on the gamepad’s screen rather than the TV. All purely optional of course.

But I’m getting ahead of myself with Wii U specifics. There are many reasons why Trine 2 is such a special game, and barely any of them are merely technical.

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Little Inferno review

A slow burn, but worthwhile

Release date: Nov 18 (US), Nov 30 (AU, EU) Platform: Wii U, PC

A cursory glance around the internet at reviews and impressions of Little Inferno reveal a pretty large breadth of opinions, ranging from the highest praise of literary elitists (“a triumph in the argument for games-as-art”) to the scorn of action-addicted zealots (“more of a toy than a game”), hitting on many differing conclusions along the way.

Both extremes and many in between fail to capture the exploratory puzzle game that lies at the heart of Little Inferno, an experience encased in some very charming visuals and sound design, existing playfully against a gothish propaganda narrative which has something fun and interesting to say. If you’re the kind of gamer who enjoys spending a few hours being intrigued by a well-told emergent narrative, if you don’t mind a slower pace of gameplay consisting mainly of discovering all the little delightful surprises and easter eggs the developer has thrown in, and if the below trailer whets your appetite, I suggest you go download Little Inferno now while you still have relatively few preconceptions. If you still need convincing though, read on.

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Chasing Aurora review

Majestic flight mechanic has its wings clipped

Release date: Nov 18 (US), Nov 30 (AU, EU) Platform: Wii U

Flight mechanics have always been very common in video game design. An obvious reason for this is that they offer increased depth of exploration –  moving from place to place can become more streamlined and elegant, plus maps can be built vertically as well as horizontally – but a deeper impetus could be found in every human’s latent desire to take flight themselves.

Playing with flight can be extremely fun, particularly if the mechanic is tuned just right to ensure control is complex yet not overly challenging. People want to feel as if they’re in practised control of something very freeing and powerful. It’s this balance that is all but perfected in Chasing Aurora: one of the handful of indie games to grace the Wii U’s eShop at launch. Once the controls are learned and mastered, flight in this mountain-themed, bird-focused game is very enjoyable. The game implements a combination of fine analog stick control, a variable flap (long even flaps to propel you, short rapid flaps if you need to climb or push through resistance) and a dedicated dive button that sends you plummeting in a satisfying arc. It’s easy to imagine how, with a free and varied game design to complement the flight system, this could become a standout downloadable title for Nintendo’s new system. The problem with Chasing Aurora, however, is that the surrounding game design very rarely allows the central mechanic to reach its lofty potential.

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Puddle review – Wii U version

An ironically solid tilt platformer

Release date: Nov 30, 2012 (AU, EU), TBA (US) Platform: Wii U

The opening moments of Puddle promise subtle jazz and believable environments, as you tilt the Wii U’s gamepad to rotate the gravity of the world and spill a cup full of coffee. After that coffee falls however so does the facade of normalcy. Jazz gives way to an energetic electro score and Puddle’s gameplay picks up to match.

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